Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor


Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Pauline Frommer Passes Through Dallas


I’ve already complained about the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show, so I will spare you another dose, but I will admit that I caused some of my own frustration.  I had planned to spend the whole day at the show, but I got a better offer.  Most everyone who reads this blog understands that Joe T Garcia’s is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, so you understand how being ferried there in a limo to celebrate the birthday of a good friend would hold a much higher priority than any travel show.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Then there was my watch.  I knew I had only a few minutes between Rick Steves’ seminar and that of Pauline Frommer, so I headed out to the exhibition floor to grab up as many brochures as I could and get a feel for the show.  What I didn’t know was that somewhere along the way I pulled the stem out of my watch and stopped time.

And I ran out of steam.  I had a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast, but it had been a very small bowl, because I needed to restock.  Most of the cereal in the bag was powder.  My watch might not have known what time it was, but the headache I was getting let me know it was time for food.  To say the food service was lackluster and slow is an understatement, but I’ll leave it at that.

From the concession area we ran over to the stage where Pauline Frommer was giving her talk, but we were late.  We’d already missed out on all kinds of valuable travel information.  I whipped out my notebook and started taking down as much info as I could get for you.

Guidebooks Are Back

The best news I heard from Pauline was that guidebooks are coming back into fashion.  For awhile folks gave the digital world a whirl, but digital has it’s limitations: wi-fi challenges, forgetting to charge your device, theft, the list goes on.  Pick out a guidebook that suits you, dog-ear the page corners, make notes in it, tape stuff in it and carry it around with you.  Guidebooks had fallen on such tough times that I feared they’d quit printing them, so I was glad to hear their sales are surging.

(I’d add that you also need a printed map.  GPS is great, but there’s nothing like plotting your route on a good map and then seeing what might be around it.  If you’ve traveled to the other side of the world, why limit yourself to what shows up on your phone screen? But back to Pauline.)

One of the reasons guidebooks are becoming popular again is because travelers need a curated voice.  User generated reviews have some value, but people are gaming the system, especially hotels and restaurants.  There’s a whole industry of review writing in third world countries, which dilutes the value of the real reviews.  (I’d like to add that you’ve also got to wade through all the angst.  We all know that people are more likely to complain than compliment, so the mean girls dominate.)

Pauline said the most valuable reviews are lists of things to see and do, but you still have to be wary.  She said to completely ignore the food recommendations though, because the top reviewed restaurants will be the chains you find in every town.

Other Nuggets 

  • Rentals: When I arrived at the seminar Pauline was announcing deep discounts at some website, but I didn’t get the URL.  In the next sentence she let us in on the news that rentals are no longer a bargain.  Seems all the rental services were bought up by the big boys and prices have gone through the sky.

There are other reasons to rent at your destination, but it won’t be the money saving value it once was.  She pointed out one reason you might want to opt for the rental is that hotels are usually in commercial zones and everything around the hotel closes down at five.  If you’re renting, you’ll be in a residential zone, close to restaurants, parks and the like.

  • Travel Insurance:  She recommends travel insurance, but warned to never buy it from your providers.  Go to or  And don’t assume that the most expensive has the best coverage, compare the inclusions.
  • Group Tours: They are in a world of hurt, because people are tired of being the prisoners of a bus.  If you do take a group tour, ask for discounts.  For small groups, she recommends: Intrpid, G Adventures, Djoser Tours, Friendly Planet and Road Scholar.
  • Volunteer Vacations: Check out Earthwatch, Vaughn Systems, The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, American Hiking Society and Global Volunteers.
  • Go to Cuba:  The regulations inhibiting travel are vague and lax.  You can meet the requirements with something as simple as going to church while you are there and call it a cultural experience.  They don’t have a lot of hotels, so look for casas partiulares.
  • Go to America’s National Parks:  It’s their 50th Anniversary and many special events are planned.

And that’s about it.  Sorry I missed the beginning of the talk.  Come back next week and I’ll get back to local travel.


Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

European Travel Rick Steves’ Style

Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show
Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show


Samantha Brown is my travel celebrity of choice, but I think her fans may be outnumbered by Rick Steves‘ fans – if the turnout at their travel show seminars can be trusted.  A couple of weeks ago I attended the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show and a standing-room-only crowd paid breathless attention to everything Rick had to say.

Rick vs Samantha

Were I given a choice between these two travel celebrities as a personal travel companion, I would choose Samantha every time.  Her love of travel is less pedagogic than Rick’s, which means I think we’d have a lot more fun, but when it comes to providing information for the European traveler, Rick has her all beat to heck.

Let’s face it.  I like glamorous things.  From time to time I watch an episode of Rick’s travel shows and he’s always wandering around backstreets, visiting factories and hanging about in somebody’s home – and for the record, the somebody is usually a nobody.  Meanwhile, Samantha sleeps in five star hotels, eats in swanky restaurants and watches the beautiful people sunbathe on a gorgeous beach.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m interested in those authentic travel experiences Rick urges us to experience, but I want them to be sprinkled among a liberal dose of dazzle.  He started his talk by outlining the limit on luggage his travelers must abide by and I knew I’d never go on one of his tours.  Still, I hung on to my seat and kept taking notes, because he is a fountain of travel wisdom.  He just doesn’t understand the value of the right accessory in ones’ vacation pictures.

Full of Good Advice

The most pertinent thing Rick Steves said was that when it comes to travel, we should learn from the mistakes of others instead of experiencing them ourselves.  He spends four months out of the year in Europe to make all the mistakes for us.  Only a third of his time is spent shooting his episodes.  The rest he devotes to checking out all the research he’s done in the months he’s not in Europe.  Here’s a few of his golden nuggets:

  • Meeting real people on your travels carbonizes your experience, so get out of your car and sit at the bar.
  • Find places with no promotional budget.  Many are just as wonderful and others more wonderful, but you’re mingling with a few natives instead of hordes of tourists:
    • For instance, to see the “real” Germany, cruise the Mosel instead of the Rhine.  The Mosel has the real quaint villages, instead of the faux quaint villages fixed up for tourists.
  • See  the front door attractions, but don’t complain about it when you get there.  Instead stay the night.  The tour buses go back to the fancy hotels and you get to enjoy the real destination.
    • Examples:  Toledo, Rothenburg, Venice
  • Spend extra money to be in the middle of the action.  It’s a better way to spend – see more of less, rather than barely any of a lot.
  • Spend at least half a day in the big city, just to get the feel of how the average person of that country lives – and if you’re already in a touristy city like Vienna, just go over to the modern part of the city.
  • Learn enough before you go to understand the basics.  Such as:
    •  Germany used to be 200 independent states, not a unified country.
    • Understand feudalism before you see castles.
    • Know the difference in architecture from the Middle Ages and the Romantic Age.  The buildings will seem to look the same unless you understand what you’re looking at.
  • Tourist Information Centers have been transformed into profit centers by selling you tickets to tourist traps.  They can still be a valuable source of information, just don’t fall for the gimmicks.
  • Whatever your thing is, pursue it on vacation:
    • Go to church, if you go to church at home.
    • Sports fanatics should go to sporting events.
    • If you nerd out on bones at home, go to a Capuchin Brothers monastery and see what they do with bones.
    • If you sky dive, collect stamps or whatever – bring your passions with you.
  • The package tour industry is feeling a pinch, so expect to spend more time on your tour at shopping opportunities than at attractions.  It’s how the guide makes a living. Don’t be a jerk about it – if you don’t want shopping opportunities, don’t go on the tours.  (Hiring a private guide and paying him NOT to take you shopping is an option.)
    • Also, most land travel companies will put you up in a very American hotel out in the middle of nowhere, so they can sell you an excursion to the actual attraction.  Consumer beware.
  • A good guidebook is a $20 investment on a $3000 trip, so get a guidebook – but be careful, because most guidebooks are lame.  (You can imagine which guidebook he doesn’t think is lame.)
  • Don’t let hysterical news short circuit your brain.  In the last 50 years, 200 tourists have been killed.  There are 1000 people killed every month in the US.  Do the math.  Where are you safer?
  • Don’t stand in bank lines.  Use ATM’s.
  • Yes there are pickpockets, so don’t be a target, and yes, that beggar is a pickpocket.   Carry a disposable wallet with your immediate cash needs in an accessible spot.  Leave the valuables in a safe or wear them in a money belt UNDER your clothes.  Do not access your money belt all the time, then you’re just helping the thieves by demonstrating where your valuables are.
  • When you DO stay overnight at a destination, ask about the paseo.  Most cities have some form of a public evening stroll within their community.  Many of the stroll locales are surrounded by cute cafes offering apertifs that are delicious and affordable – just right for paseo watching.

Seminar?  Advertisement?  Same Difference!

Mr. Steves was pretty transparent about the fact that he’s in the travel business as a profit-making venture.  At the same time, he realizes that most of the people within the sound of his voice are not actually potential customers for his tours.  He said the tours offer “vivid hands-on experiences”, but while they are just right for the right person, they would be awful for everyone else.  I am everyone else.

However, I plan to take full advantage of the resources he makes available to everyone for free.  His website is an encyclopedic resource of information.  I just booked a cruise for April (something he doesn’t strongly endorse), but I’ve already been researching the ports of call on his website.  Plenty there to keep me busy for a while.  I will also buy some guidebooks and will probably include his among my purchases.

His lecture did take a political detour that I could have done without.  He strongly endorses Turkey as a destination, which I can agree with, but not for the same reasons and certainly not because I have a political axe to grind, which it seems he does.  For more information read his book, “Travel as a Political Act.”

So, today I’ve bent your ear longer than usual.  I hope you find some of Rick’s travel tips helpful.  Let me know if you’ve used some of his guidebooks and have found them helpful.  Next week I’ll tell you about Pauline Frommer’s seminar.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Show Success Breeds Disappointment

Travel & Adventure Show Virtual Vacation Pic
Travel & Adventure Show Virtual Vacation Pic


For the last few years I’ve spent at least one full day at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show.  Each year I’ve told you to put this on your calendar.  If this year is any indicator of future shows, I might have to tell you to just stay home!

How It Was Before

Several years back, when I attended my first Travel & Adventure Show, I was blown away.  They had reps from all over the world, right there for me to visit with.  I’d go from booth to booth, loading up on brochures and chatting with the travel reps from all the various locales.  And there were adventures to sample.  One year there was zip lining.  Another year they were offering Segway rides throughout the exhibit space.  I loved the Global Beats state where I saw belly dancing and lovely Mexican folk dancing.  I thought it was one of the coolest events I’d ever attended.

How It Was Last Weekend

A lot of people must have taken my advice about attending the show, because when we arrived, a little before the opening, we found a line stretching into the horizon.   I live in Dallas, so I’m used to lines; however, this was our first clue that things weren’t quite what they used to be.

Enter the camel! Yes, a camel.  I’m lucky to have had my camel riding experience at the Pyramids in Egypt and I hate to be an adventure snob, but somehow, riding a camel around a small space that didn’t look much bigger than my living room didn’t seem like much of a thrill – even for folks who’d never had the opportunity to ride a camel at all.

You could also ride a Segway in a similar space in another part of the exhibition – way sad considering they used to wander all around the exhibition.  There was a small pool for a scuba experience (BYO swimsuit & towel).  There may have been a rock climbing tower, but I didn’t see it.  I did like the green screen photo booth where we got our picture a la Thailand.

Then there were the booths – which should have been travel booths – but instead spread among safaris and cruises, were exhibitors who wanted to speak to you about getting your house remodeled or refinanced.  Or replacing your tub with a walk-in version. Or getting rid of your time share.  Or…well you get the picture.  REALLY??!!??  An entire corner of the show was some sort of retail space for farm products with a few live animals for kids to pet.  Come on people!!  There was supposed to be a cultural exhibit filled by reps from China and Mexic0, but it was empty.

The Taste of Travel stage seemed to be a big hit, which I didn’t get at all, because it was cooking demonstrations.  I don’t want to learn to cook grilled cheese sandwiches from a Dallas food truck proprietor at a travel show.  Perhaps I’d sit through a demonstration by a Thai chef from a restaurant in Bangkok, but a local food truck’s grilled cheese sandwiches? PUH-LEEEZ!!

Then there was the Romance Travel booth focused on destination weddings and other love-related events.  I would have said that the brides stayed home in droves, except that I figure they were actually over at Market Hall at the Bridal Show.  Someone didn’t do their homework.

Making it all  more unbearable than before was that even the travel booths disappointed me.  While there were some (make that a few) very inviting travel booths with enthusiastic travel reps, they were the exception rather than the norm.  There were a lot more gimmacky booths with people giving away “free” travel for the spin of wheel or some other schtick.  There were also more people trying to sell me travel packages than there were people trying to teach me how to be an informed traveler.  And get this, many of the booths required you to sign up with your contact information before they would give you a brochure.  NOT!!

The final bit of indignation went back to my first complaint – where did all these people come from?!?  I couldn’t even get up to several of the booths I was interested in, for all the people standing in front of them.  I guess that’s good for the booths with that problem, but access is the name of the game.  I’m there to get information and if I can’t get it, then I will stay home.  I am perfectly capable of inputting my information and ordering brochures online.  It’s just that it was so much more fun to do it live – heavy on the WAS!

I did take advantage of the opportunity to hear Rick Steves and Pauline Frommer and I’ll give you the low down on those very informative seminars over the next couple of weeks, but all-in-all I was disappointed.  Come back next week to get the highlights from Rick Steves’ about traveling Europe, but don’t bother marking your calendar for next years, unless you need to remodel your bath or are particularly fond of crowds.



Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Hold On To Your Hat, Pauline’s Here!

Pauling Frommer with a Whirlwind tour of everything.
Pauline Frommer with a Whirlwind tour of everything.


If your last name is Frommer, then I guess it’s no surprise you know a thing or two about travel.  Pauline Frommer began her talk at the recent Dallas Travel and Adventure Show with what she thought was good news.  The Frommer family has re-acquired the Frommer guides.  Then she moved right on to the bad news. When you’re listening to Pauline you’ve got to be ready to move quickly.  She covers a lot of ground in a short time.

Highlights from Pauline

Her slide simply said, “KABOOM!” The bad news is that the cost of travel is about to blow up.  Like most of the changes we are forced to deal with, this change is couched in the market-speak of customization and individualized attention.  When you see those words, get out your charge card and be sure you’ve raised the limit.  Customization is pc talk for removing the consumers ability to compare prices.

When you look at your old friends expedia, Price Line, Travelocity and the like, you may think you know what you’re looking at, but you won’t.  You may think you’re pretty clever, but Kayak isn’t going to help, because there will be no way to compare things apple to apple.  This one will include your carry on luggage, while that one will charge you more for a seat closer to the front of the plane, while another may look less expensive, it’s actually going to cost the most, because everything, including your seat will be an extra charge.

So where do you go?  She recommends, and  And why does she recommend these?  Because they do not actually sell anything.  They are merely search engines that compare pricing.  You’ll have to go somewhere else to buy, but you’ll find what you need here first.  I haven’t played with them yet, so let me know what you think.

More shopping hints?  NEVER buy travel on the weekend.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best.  Round trip fares will no longer guarantee you the cheapest flight.  Two one ways might actually be less expensive.  If you have the time, she reminded us that non-direct flights can be cheaper, but who has the time?

Airfare Tips

More ways to get cheaper airfare? Use to plug into any specials that a local agency might have and another source of cheap travel might be ethnic travel agencies.  Say you’re flying to Tel Aviv.  Chances are there is a Hebrew travel agency who can get you there cheaper than you can get there yourself.

More digital help? Gateguru is an app that will help you navigate the airports of the world.  Follow your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook to get sales that aren’t available anywhere else. XL Airway can get you from New York to London for $584. Also try Norwegian Airlines when you go to Europe.  Even though you may end up with three flights rather than one, the puddle jump may be so cheap, it’s worth the hassle.

One more airfare tip.  Try  It’s doing for travel what options did for the investment game.  Don’t just go buy a ticket. Spend $7 to get an option on it.  If airfare goes up, then they have to sell it to you at the option price.  If it goes down, you’ve lost $7, but only $7.

Accomodation Hints

Now to accommodations.  With airfare so expensive, all you may be able to afford for a bed is nothing.  You’re in luck!  Now there’s and  Will you be staying at the Waldorf Astoria?  No, but free is free.  Well, even with free you can get something you didn’t bargain for, so Pauline reminds us not to couch surf via Craig’s List.  Global Freeloaders and Couch Surfing provide reviews and are somewhat more vetted than Craig’s List. In fact, you’re also reviewed as a guest.  Still let the freeloader beware.

She also mentioned  With this you have something more at stake, your own home.  People who really seem to like this are people with children and pets.  The children, because if you trade homes with someone who has kids with ages the same as your’s, you won’t have to tote as much along with you. With pets, it gives you an automatic pet sitter and in return, you’re sitting for their’s and won’t go into feline or canine withdrawal.

If you want to save, but are looking for something more traditional, go for a rental at,, or  One word of warning on these rentals, though.  They will require a hefty deposit, which is reasonable, but in case of a disaster, like 9-11 or Mother Nature, you’re not going to get that deposit back.  That’s reasonable for the owner, but if you’re thinking of using this method, get travel insurance.  (Side note: I found out travel insurance is included on any travel I buy with my credit card, so you might not actually have to have additional costs to protect yourself.)

For Bed and Breakfast accomodations, she recommends,, and – but Evergreen is only for senior citizens.  When you’re looking for cheap places to stay don’t overlook monasteries.  They frown on unmarried people sleeping together and things will be very spartan, but the price is right.  If you’re a veteran, check out military hotels.  Women who are traveling on their own should check out  You’re not necessarily going to get invited to spend the night, but you might find a new friend.

If you plan on sticking to a hotel room, the new average price for one is $110 and like air travel, that covers less and less.  Especially beware resort fees and minibar restocking.  Those can blow your budget very quickly.

One way to save money on hotels is to combine your hotel with your airfare.  It’s not always cheaper, but it can be.  You just have to do your homework.  Try these:,,, and  Others include:, and  Something new to the hotel game is, but there’s a catch, when they say tonight, they mean tonight.  I checked it out a while back and it was great for places like Dallas or San Francisco, but not so much Crowheart, Wyoming.  In other words, depend on Hotel Tonight only when you’re in a major market.

Are you worn out, yet?  Imagine how fast I was having to write to get all this down in a one hour seminar!

Customized Experiences

Looking for customized experiences when you’re away from home?  Pauline calls it contextual travel.  Look to: and  A new trend is eating with people in their homes.  For that you can go to and

Maybe you’d like to travel, but have no one to go with.  If you want some travel buddies try small group travel.  You’ll get twelve new best friends, stay in local hotels, eat in locally owned restaurants and enjoy local guides.  For small group travel check:,, and is a clearing house for exotic travel experiences.

More and more people are using vacations as a way to give back.  For short volunteer opportunities see:  Give the Kids the World Village, British Trust for Conservation Trust and Colorado Trail Foundation.  for longer stints see: Vaughn Systems where you teach Spanish people colloquial English and  American Hiking society where you help our nation’s hiking infrastructure,which is sorely in need of the help.

Still Cruising?

With all the cruising disasters of late, cruising as a whole had a low profile at this show, but it hasn’t disappeared by any means (especially in Alaska). Pauline’s strongest tip was never to buy a cruise from the cruise line.  Instead try:,,,,,, and  She also doesn’t want you to buy your excursions from the cruise line either.  First do a little research.  The cruise line may be charging you an enormous amount for something you can do on your own for free or almost free.  (Like when I popped over to Atlantis for a couple of dollars of cab fare rather than the packaged deals that were in the double and triple digits.)  If you do want to take a planned excursions check out, and

So Where Should You Go When You Follow Pauline’s Advice?

Finally she made three travel suggestions.  Taiwan, Poland and Guatemala.  Taiwan has a blend of Asian cultures and Poland has a blend of European cultures.  Guatemala she suggested because it’s just now opening up after decades of civil war and it’s one of the few places you can go and find authentic cultural experiences.  There’s more, but by then my writing was so cramped that I can’t read my notes.  I guess next year you’ll just have to go to the show yourself.


DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Chris Harrison Reflects on Romance and Travel

2013-11-02 12.20.48


Here’s how out of it I am. I didn’t know who Chris Harrison was. His face looked familiar, but I didn’t know why. When I read that he was the host of The Bachelor/Bachelorette, I contemplated not hearing him. The few times I’ve channel-surfed past the show I wanted to either throw something at the TV or throw up or both.

The Bachelor Host Talks Travel

I was pleasantly surprised when he kicked off his talk with sagacity. The question he’s most often asked is what’s been his favorite destination.  He pointed out that each of us has to find our own way to travel.  What works for Chris Harrison is not one size fits all.  In fact, when he told us what worked for him, I knew I’d be better off not traveling with him.  Not that what he prefers is bad, it’s just not my way.

He plans zilch and likes to wander aimlessly out of his hotel room to discover what might happen.  That always sounds so romantic, but for me always ends up so disastrously.  To begin with, I’d lose all the fun of planning.  Researching my destination is almost as much fun as going there.  I know that sounds weird, but as Chris pointed out, different strokes for different folks.  Then, if I showed up unprepared it would be the day the entire city closed down for something or it would be pouring down rain and I’d be stuck in the hotel room.  Worst of all, I’d get home only to discover that I’d been in the same town as some amazingly wonderful sight and didn’t get around to seeing it, which would break my heart.

Favorite Places

So given that we’re all different by design, what are Chris’s favorite places of those he’s visited with the show?  Bora Bora is at the top of his list, but he warns that there is absolutely nothing to do in Bora Bora and that’s the whole point.  Next on his list of “get naked and do nothing” places is Sugar Beach on St. Lucia.

If you actually want something to do, he recommends Prague.  He says it’s a wonderful old city with lots of young people.  By day it’s an ancient city, but by night…PARTY!  And the list goes on:  Istanbul, Iceland, Panama, Munich. In Chaing Mai he recommends Muay Thai Boxing, which is sort of like Broadway’s version of Bruce Lee.

What’s Up at The Bachelor

Then the audience began to move to the edges of their seats, because he started sharing snippets of the upcoming season with Juan Pablo.  They’ll be in Asia for much of the show and Chris has fallen in love with the Intercontinental in DeNang.  That’s in Viet Nam, in case you didn’t know.  He’s crazy about the beaches and the golf.  Viet Nam is no longer a war zone.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette began as a low budget reality show in LA and out of desperation for some variety they went to Aruba. Almost overnight Aruba became the go-to spot for romantic travel.  As soon as that happened every destination in the world started knocking on The Bachelor/Bachelorette door.  Now the show’s producer pretty much gets to write his own ticket, anywhere he wants to go.  Chris’s warning?  Don’t think you can duplicate what happens on the show.  In order to score a spot in a season, the destinations really have to pull out all the stops, so you and I wouldn’t get the same sort of access.  We’ll have fun and it might be romantic, but we won’t be transported to Fantasy Island.

Come to find out, Chris is a Dallas boy.  Grew up in Lake Highlands.  And his true favorite travel destination?  Austin.  You can take the boy out of Texas, but not the Texas out of the boy.

DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Suggestions from the 1000 Places Author

Author of 1000 Places to See Before You Die
Author of 1000 Places to See Before You Die


Patricia Schultz, author of 1000 Places to See Before You Die, is a conservatively dressed lady who wears her hair up. She wasn’t who I was expecting.  I sort of thought she’d stroll in wearing a sari or sporting a beret.  She proves that anyone could be a world traveler – even you.

Traveling Alone and Along

She didn’t learn travel trailing along behind a vagabond parent or as the companion to an eccentric aunt.  As a matter of fact, the only place she ever went on family vacations was Atlantic City.

The first moments of her presentation were devoted to traveling alone, which seemed an odd place to start.  I’ve had few opportunities to travel alone, but I can attest to the point she was making, traveling alone doesn’t mean you’ll be lonely.  People everywhere are dying to meet you and share their story.

From solo travel she moved on to an Asian proverb, “It is better to see something once than to hear about it for a thousand years.”  On that, she and I agree completely.  I love travel and travel shows and travel channels – in fact anything that has to do with travel.  However, I do think that far too many people think they know someplace because they saw it on TV.  You really do need to go, to know.

Urgent: Visit Now or Else

Then she embarked on a list of the most urgent places one should visit from her wider list of 1000 destinations.  She did just update the list, so there’s a new one.  She said the main difference, beyond cleaning off the places that were no longer accessible to the public, was more destinations in the once Soviet landscape.  And where does the author of 1000 Places To Go Before You Die think you should see first?

She began in Scotland with Edinburgh, which I’d visited, and the Hebrides Islands, which I hadn’t.  Then on to Paris, the most visited city in the world and I have been one of those visitors.  Then she veered away from places that I knew.  Bruge, Belgium with its chocolate and beer is a favorite of hers, as well as Gdansk, Poland.

Her next tip was Guatemala, a bit of a surprise and by chance, later in the day Pauline Frommer underlined it as an up and comer in the travel world.  I haven’t been, but my ambassador, Mr. Bill went there on a mission trip.

She wanted us to know that Scandinavia was not a country, but a region.  Of the region she said Norway had gotten all the good looks and drama, but Denmark was the friendliest, not just of Scandinavia, but of the world.

Don’t stay home for Christmas she urged – instead see the Christmas markets of Europe.  She showed a slide of Vienna, but embraces the markets wherever they are found. Vienna I know, but I’ve never been there for the Christmas markets.  Then she moved on to Venice and told us that you haven’t been there unless you stepped away from the main sites and allowed yourself to get lost.

She said that visiting St. Peterburg was like visiting a colder Italy, because it was built by Italian artisans.  Her favorite building is the Winter Palace with the Hermitage, which owns the largest art collection in the world.  Another must see in the old Soviet world is Ljubljana, Slovenia in what used to be Yugoslavia and while you’re in the neighborhood, visit Croatia.

On the African continent she recommends Marrakesh, Morocco and as she described a nighttime food market there, I decided to add it to my bucket list.  She’s quite fond of Ethiopia and the huge churches there, carved three stories down into the ground in solid stone.  She also loves safaris and touts them as life-changing experiences.  She said if she could only recommend one thing, it would be the safari.  Her helpful hint was just to go and not worry about which country to go to or which safari to take – just go! South Africa she called a one-stop-shop.  You want it, they have it.

She mourned the loss of Syria as a tourist destination and recommended Jerusalem. It was apparent that she really likes Jordan.  She loves the young feel of the ancient place and recommends Petra.

Moving on to Asia, she loves Shanghai, the New York of Asia and recommends Tokyo, especially since they are about to get the Olympics.  Mongolia was a surprising item on her list and even more surprising that she said it was very much like Montana.

She confessed to loving India, but warned that it’s a country that one either loves or hates, which reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  She didn’t mention the movie, but it certainly exemplified her point.

Finally, she arrived at Istanbul, but then admitted that she had other places on her list, but had run out of steam.  That’s OK, this list should keep me busy for a while.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The 2013 Dallas Travel & Adventure Show

Banat Misr Belly Dancers
Banat Misr Belly Dancers


Going solo to the Travel and Adventure Show gave it a different flavor.  In the past I’d gone with my husband or my bestie, but when travel is the subject at hand, I don’t need a wing man.

Flying Solo

I arrived as the doors opened and set right to visiting booths.  At the first few I tested out an app they were promoting which allowed you to scan a box code at each booth, but that didn’t last very long.  There was no real benefit to me that I could figure out and it was a real hassle.  I could just envision laying down my smartphone and never seeing it again, not to mention the juice I was sucking out of it.  Besides, I was there to get brochures and I didn’t have much time. The forty-five minutes between the opening of the show and the first presenter disappeared much more quickly than you can imagine.

I dragged my armload of brochures to the Travel and Adventure Theatre (their spelling, not mine) and tried to condense my burden while the radio personality introduced the first celebrity, Patricia Schultz, author of 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  I’ll share the gist of all the presentations in the coming weeks.

When she was through, I realized I didn’t want to tote all my tote bags and brochures around, so I whipped down to my car and dropped off a load.  I saved out one of the larger bags and hurried back to the show to gather up more brochures before the next speaker, Chris Harrison of The Bachelor.  I enjoyed his talk, but the Q& A session was all about the TV show, not travel. So I grabbed a bite to eat and hit a few more booths requiring yet another trip to the car.

Next up was Pauline Frommer of the Frommer guides.  She’s always a fount of knowledge and I took copious notes.  After her talk I hightailed it over to the Global Beats Stage.  I might not have needed a wingman, but I could have used a clone.  As much as I enjoyed visiting the booths and listening to the celebrities, I knew I was missing some great entertainment.  The first performers of the day were from Japan and it would have been easy to plop down in a chair and enjoy their performance.  The costumes alone would have been worth the time invested.  Who knows, next year I may go both days!

The Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico were stomping out a Latin beat when I arrived.  I’m a huge fan of folklorico in general and of this troupe in particular.  Just one more reason I love my city.  Next up were the belly dancers.  This year there were three troupes sharing the Middle Eastern Dance hour.  I enjoyed Na’Di El Raks which I’d seen here before, as well as at the fair.  They exemplified the bare midriff that makes belly dancing so popular with the guys.   Next up was Banat Misr with a less provocative form of the dance.  As the picture shows above, they’re modestly covered from neck to toe.  I didn’t stay for the third troupe, because Bert Kreischer of Trip Flip was about to start over at the Travel and Adventure Theatre.

My Travel Loot
My Travel Show Loot

For those of you who haven’t seen Trip Flip, Mr. Kreischer is a comedian who recruits average folks to go on mystery trips.  Then he takes them on some adventure that’s just outside the average person’s comfort zone.  It’s a fun show to watch, but since I’d rather go to a museum than bungee jump, his presentation didn’t resonate with me.  I do think everyone should be out in the world experiencing what it has to offer.  If jumping off of and out of things intrigues you, then you should definitely pursue those opportunities.  Me, I get my giggles without risking my neck.

Like Chris’ Q&A, Bert’s audience was primarily interested in behind-the-scenes scoop on the TV show, so I slipped away to visit the rest of the booths and make sure I had every possible brochure.  I see lots of travel dreaming in my future.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Dallas Travel and Adventure Show 2013

Travel Show Hula Dancers getting ready for their performance
Travel Show Hula Dancers getting ready for their performance


One of my favorite events is returning to Dallas this weekend, the Travel and Adventure Show presented by Adventure Expo, and it’s gonna be big.  For several years now I’ve touted the event and you have to remember, no one pays me to do this.

What to Expect

This year Pauline Frommer of the Frommer Guides, Patricia Schultz of 1000 Places to See Before You Die, Chris Harrison of ABC’s The Bachelor, actor/author Andrew McCarthy and Bert Kreischer of Travel Channel’s Trip Flip will be among the travel celebrities. Unfortunately, Samantha Brown will not be returning, but I’ll try to get over my disappointment.

Why in the world would you get in your car and pay money to go to a travel show when you’ve got the Travel Channel?  Come on!  Get out of your chair and rediscover LIVE!

How to Enjoy the Experrience

Here’s how to enjoy the travel event.  First go to the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show site and click on “Plan Your Visit/Schedule-At-A-Glance”.  There you will see the schedule for all four stages for the two day event.  You’ve got your Culinary Stage for foodies, your Travel & Adventure Theater for the celebrities, Destination Theater for talks about specific destinations and then the Global Beats Stage.  I confess, Global Beats takes up a lot of my time.  You want hula, you got hula.  You want hip hop, you got hip hop.  Belly dancing, folklorico, you name it!

Then there’s your hands-on adventures.  Think you’d like to zip line, but are afraid you’d chicken out on the edge of some canyon.  Go to the travel show and you can try it out with a little less pressure and money on the line, as it were.  There’s a rock wall for climbing and this year you can walk on water.  Yes, I said you can walk on water!  Can you do that on your sofa?

I enjoy all of these things, but my very favorite thing is browsing the exhibitors.  There’s always some destination that has heretofore been all but invisible to me that suddenly forces itself onto my wish list.  I get to sign up for all kinds of contests and pick up brochures of every stripe, from recipes to restaurants to river cruises.  I also love the chotchkies.  Emery boards, plastic alligators, blow-up travel pillows – you never know what kind of essential item someone is willing to give you for free.

I’ll be there at 10 AM that Saturday morning in my comfortable walking shoes and will be one of the last folks to drag my goodie bags out of there at 5 PM.  Pauline Frommer is my must-see celebrity this year.  She’s the one who gave me the hint that led me to the Sunny Liston Tour on St. Thomas, one of my all time favorite excursions.  But these’s a conflict, because over on the Destination Stage at the same time is a talk about Travel Photography, something else I’d like to hear.  And how do you choose between European River Cruises and Bert Kreischer.  It’ll be a tough call.

So, will I see you at the show or not?

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Samantha Brown Visits Dallas

Sweet Samantha Brown


My favorite speaker at the recent Dallas Travel & Adventure Show was Samantha Brown. That’s probably because she’s also my favorite travel personality. This was the second time I’d seen her live but I still got all giddy.

Samantha’s News

The exciting news was that she’s in the family way – twins in fact.  One has to wonder whether she’ll start reporting on travel for families when her dynamic duo arrives.

One of the things I like about her is that she manages to keep her humble-person-seeing-the-world attitude in spite of the fame she’s garnered.  Often when I read/view something by other travel authorities, I feel like what they say has nothing in common with my travel experience or priorities.  I realize that the travel pros have a wide audience and that any many cases I’m not even the one they’re talking to – but with Samantha, I feel like she’s always talking to just me and I’m being generous by letting others listen in.

Samantha’s approach-ability was very apparent in the subject she chose to speak on at the show, “My Globalization of Mishaps.”  She shared everything from her frustration with plastic covered soap to her broken nose in Marseilles.

Here’s the bits I liked best:

  • Learn to say “please, thank you and hello” for whatever non-English speaking country you go to.  That’s usually enough to earn points with the natives.  She tried one of those language tapes on her first trip to France, but ended up in tears outside a Parisian bakery.
  • Never ask, “do you speak English.” You’ll sound rude  and your audience might feel put down.  Instead apologize for not speaking their language.  Nothing fancy.  “Lo siento no espanol.”  Whoever you’re talking to usually figures out the fact that you speak English.
  • And if you’re in the Far East, use a translator.  She even got “Hello, I’m Sam.  Thank you,” wrong in Taiwan.  The audience greeted her with a standing ovation and even though she got the syllables right, she used the wrong inflection.  It’s her most embarrassing moment, yet.  (I’d say ever, but with her willingness to try most anything, she might have a worse one and I’ll love her even more for it.)
  • She recommends always taking the first flight out in the morning to wherever you are going, because the plane being used was the last one to come in last night.  There’s one personal caveat I have to add to that.  Sometimes that last flight in doesn’t make it in, so you might run into a problem anyway, like I did on the way to Portland this year.  She also said they were usually cheaper.
  • She says that the “arrive two hours before your flight” rule needs to be amended.  It should be two hours before it boards, not two hours before it departs.
  • And here’s one I never thought of, but I realized immediately how valuable it might be.  One of the first things she does when she gets to a new hotel room is run the water to see how long it will take to get hot.  If you wait until morning to figure that out, you might be late to wherever you’re headed.
  • She also recommends following whatever airline you’re flying on twitter.  You’ll get announcements earlier sometimes and she’s also found that she gets answers to her questions faster that way.

Thanks Samantha!

What do you think?  Are those some great tips?  If you’d heard them before, would they have saved you some grief on one of your trips?