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Archive for November, 2010

Thanksgiving wishes and gift ideas for travelers

No matter where you are today, I hope you have the opportunity to gather with family and friends and enjoy the warmth and fellowship of good company, a special meal, and a moment of gratitude for the abundance that fills our lives.

And for those of you who plan to take advantage of the doorbuster deals on Black Friday or shop the Web on Cyber Monday, I’ve rounded up some of our best gifts ideas for travelers to help you with your shopping.

Scroll through the links below to read about our favorite travel accessories and gadgets that I think would make wonderful gifts this holiday.

  • Kiva makes Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things 2010. I love Kiva and just found out that Oprah does too. Oprah included a Kiva gift card on her Ultimate Favorite Things 2010. Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

  • Three new travel gadgets to get you going to your destination. Getting through airport security is still a necessary hassle. That’s not to say it can’t be less of a hassle. I looked at how the the scanner bag, portable scales, and Space Bags TO GO help speed you through airport check-in and security.

  • SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing takes the weight off your shoulders. SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing is stylish clothing that actually saves you from having to carry around purses and bags, since every garment has tons of pockets where you can securely stow gear and gadgets. We talk to Scott Jordan, CEO and founder, about what he thinks will be the hottest selling SCOTTEVEST items this holiday.

I hope you find these links helpful and that they make shopping for your traveler this holiday a little easier. And if you have any great gift suggestions let us know about them in a comment on this post. Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Random Acts of Culture strikes Philadelphia Macy’s

Every once in a while it’s nice to shake things up. So instead of writing about travel today, I’m going to share with you a surprise concert that took place at the Macy’s department store in Philadelphia.

On Oct. 30, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture at the store.

Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ — the world’s largest pipe organ — the OCP chorus and singers from the community posed as shoppers all over the store. At the strike of noon they burst into a pop-up rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” What a treat the rest of Macy’s shoppers got!

When I saw this video it brought back wonderful memories of walking under the big eagle in the department store (it was called Wanamaker’s then) with my mother on Wednesday evenings. That was the day we would take the trolley car to “town” and go shopping.

There was a Barton’s candy counter inside one of the entrances to the store, where my mother would buy almond kisses that we would eat with delight. We would always eat the whole bag before we reached home.

My dad, a Holocaust survivor who was frugal due to the incredible deprivation he endured, didn’t think spending so much money on premium candy was for us. So we ate the evidence before he could find out!

Anyone visiting Philadelphia will want to pass under the eagle in Macy’s. It’s as much a part of the history of our lovely city as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Betsy Ross’s House. But I don’t want to promise any concerts, so listen to this incredible clip.

Kiva makes Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things 2010

I love Kiva and just found out that Oprah does too. Oprah included a Kiva gift card on her Ultimate Favorite Things show on Friday.

If you’ve never watched one of these episodes, it’s an annual segment where Oprah shares what she thinks are the most noteworthy products that would make great gifts this holiday. I was delighted when I saw Kiva had made this year’s list.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Friendly Planet Travel started a Kiva lending team in August 2009.

Since then, our 186 members have loaned over $25,000. These loans are helping real people make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their families, and their communities.

We started our partnership with Kiva because as travelers, we encounter wonderful sights and sounds, culture, beauty, history, and fascinating people. We also discover other things that are less wonderful, like how difficult it is to make a living and support a family in many countries. Too many hard-working people simply don’t have the resources or opportunities to prosper.

But there is a lot that we can do to change that — not by charity, but by lending. Just as businesses here in the U.S. usually need financing to get off the ground, entrepreneurs in developing countries often need loans to build successful businesses.

Sometimes, a “micro-loan” of as little as $25 can help a seamstress in Uganda or a mechanic in Guatemala purchase the equipment or goods they need to expand their business and make it profitable and self-sustaining.

The people you see on Kiva’s site are real individuals in need of funding. You pick who you want to loan to and how much, and Kiva sends you updates as the loan is repaid. More than 98 percent of the loans are repaid, and when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.

I think one of the best gifts to give this holiday season is a Kiva gift card. And if you join Friendly Planet Travel’s Kiva lending team, your loans will count towards the team’s total amount loaned. Thanks to Oprah for highlighting this wonderful organization.

Navigating the TSA’s new airport security measures this Thanksgiving

The cranberry sauce and turkey feast is upon us. In a few days, 24 million travelers are expected to take to the skies to get to their Thanksgiving holiday destination, a 3.5 percent increase over 2009. Travelers can expect crowded airports, long lines, and enhanced security measures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You might have heard some of the backlash the TSA’s new full-body scans and pat downs are getting. Most of the backlash stems from travelers’ concerns that the scans are an invasion of privacy.

One grassroots movement is even asking travelers to opt-out of the full-body scan for a pat down on Nov. 24. On the other hand, there are travelers protesting the pat downs. They’re just as invasive as a full-body scan, except your face is not obscured, as it is with the scanner.

At the San Diego airport, passenger John Tyner made headlines when he threatened a TSA agent with arrest if he touched him inappropriately. Even TSA Administrator John Pistole got a pat down and admitted that it was clearly more invasive, but the procedures are necessary to detect devices not seen before.

Either way you look at it, people are going to be unhappy. But the TSA is defending its security measures by saying it will help them “stay ahead of the [terrorist] threat and keep you safe.”

If you’re wondering why there’s a need for such invasive photo-imaging, just remember the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack in 2009. The people on the plane with him were lucky, because the bomb he hid in his underwear was a dud. Today, thanks to devices like the full-body scanner, he would not be able to get on a flight at all.

So in light of the TSA’s new airport security measures, let me tell you what you should expect at the airport this holiday. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to get through the check-in process while doing your part to ensure safety as you travel.

New TSA regulations require all travelers to submit their legal names (as they appear on your passport or other photo identification), date of birth, and gender to book a flight. Your ticket cannot be written without this information, and a boarding pass will not be issued if this information is not in your flight record. Be fastidious when filling out this information, as you don’t want it to differ from what’s on your form of identification which might cause you to be denied boarding.

After you get your boarding pass, go to the security check point, and be ready to pull out your quart-sized plastic bag that contains your 3-ounce containers of liquid to place in a security bin. The 3-1-1 rule is still in effect. If you don’t already have your quart-sized bag prepared, you’ll hold up the line. However, if you’re checking luggage, you can put all of your liquids in your checked luggage and avoid this step completely.

But if you need to take some personal items with you on board, put them in the quart-size plastic bag. Some items you might not realize belong in the plastic bag are lipstick, mouthwash, perfume, chap stick, and mascara.

Next, you’ll need to remove your shoes and belts (whether the buckle is metallic or not). You’ll also need to put your smart phone, keys, and laptop or netbook in a security bin. Keep your passport and boarding pass in hand to pass through the metal detector or body scanner quickly.

As of today, 68 airports are scanning travelers with a body scanner. Understand that the person looking at your image cannot see your face and doesn’t know it’s you whose body is in the image. If you’re opposed to the full body scan, you can opt for a pat down.

A pat-down involves a person running her hands thoroughly around all the places on your body where a bomb could be hidden. Or, you could opt for a pat down in private with a witness, to be sure you aren’t touched inappropriately. This takes much longer to conduct. If you go that route, you’ll probably hold up the line and might delay travelers getting to their gate.

I don’t want to down play the inconvenience these security measures have on travelers just to board an airplane. But in today’s world, some of our choices have simply become limited. I do need to fly from place to place. And whatever it takes to make my flight safe, well, it’s OK by me.

Let me leave you with one final note when you’re traveling this holiday: keep your cool. Everyone is harried. Security agents, flight attendants, ticket and gate agents, and all the other support staff who you’ll encounter during your travels are equally harried. If 30 years of constant travel has taught me anything, it’s that a kind word, a friendly smile, and a polite request typically produces the best results.

Happy travels!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Seven new travel apps for your smart phone

I’m thinking about promoting Becca Torres, a Friendly Planet Travel reservationist, to travel app extraordinaire. She downloaded and reviewed several apps for us at the beginning of the summer to tell you what she thinks the best travel apps are for your smart phone. And since then, she hasn’t stopped downloading.

She’s been experimenting with even more apps to bring you her latest roundup. Keep reading to see why Becca likes these seven new travel apps. And if you see any that Becca missed that you think deserve a mention, let us know in a comment.


Whether you’re abroad or in the U.S., here are more travel apps I think are worth downloading. I hope you find them to be useful!

TripAdvisor – Gives reviews and advice on hotels, restaurants, flights, vacation rentals, travel guides, and more. It’s helpful if you need to book a hotel in a pinch or want other travelers’ opinions on a particular site. Free for iPhone and Android phones.

World Clock – Stop waking mom and dad up at all hours of the night because you can’t figure out what time it is at home when you’re on the other side of the planet. World Clock comes free with most phones, so put it to use and get the local time. Or opt for the $1.99 version on the iTunes store.

The Weather Channel – Leave your sunscreen at home or pack your poncho. The Weather Channel will tell you what the weather is going to be like in any part of the world. I personally live by it! Free on all smart phones.

Currency Exchange – Dollars to yuan? I can’t do that type of calculation off the top of my head either. Knowing the exchange rate will help you keep your travel budget balanced. Try the Lite version for free on your iPhone or upgrade to Pro for $0.99.

Google Earth – Never pull out a map again if you get lost and need to find your way. Find your location quickly, explore in 3-D, and search by voice to get you going. Available for free on any smart phone.

Twitter App – Keep family and friends updated on your travels in 140 characters or less. You can also search a destination and find out what is happening there. There are numerous Twitter apps to download for every smart phone, but I stick to Twitter’s official app.

Goby App – It’s only available in the U.S. right now, but it tells you all of the events that are going on in your city or town. With over 350 categories of things to do, you can easily plan your social life around this app. Free for the iPhone.

Why the National Geographic Channel’s ‘Great Migrations’ is a must-see

If you’re a nature lover, you probably have the National Geographic Channel set on your DVR, I know I do.

This Sunday night, I’m looking forward to its new new seven-part series, “Great Migrations.” It will cover the annual journey millions of animals take to ensure the survival of their species.

One migration that I’m very excited to see, which centers around Kenya and Tanzania, is that of wildebeest. Their annual migration is considered one of the most spectacular in nature.

Over a million wildebeest, along with 450 other species of wildlife, make the circular migration year after year. Friendly Planet Travel offers several tours to Africa where these migrations take place. Travelers frequently ask me about when and where they occur, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about it.

Wildebeest are herbivores and need to graze constantly. As a result, they move as the seasons change to find fresh land and water. In Tanzania, the wildebeest herds gather in the Southern Serengeti. During the rainy season in April and May, the herds begin their migration northward by heading west first.

The wildebeest herds move to the flourishing grasses and open woodlands of the Western Serengeti, whose sweeping vistas make it the best place to watch the migration unfold. This is also the time when the wildebeest mate.

By June, the herds are heading north towards Kenya. One of the most breathtaking sights of the migration is that of the herds congregating to cross the Grumeti River in Tanzania and the Mara River in Kenya. From July to September, wildebeest tackle the strong currents and the crocodiles that wait for them in the waters.

For tourists, it’s amazing to watch the lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs follow the herds. Unfortunately, a quarter of the wildebeest won’t make it, falling prey to predators or drowning in the rivers.

By the time November rolls around, the wildebeest return south to the Serengeti plains to give birth to their calves. Until the end of March, this is the perfect time to see almost a half million calves running with their mothers. The sight of the mothers and their young also attracts predators, including lions which hunt them as prey.

Then the migration begins all over again. The wildebeest migration is often spontaneous because it revolves around the weather. If the rainy season starts earlier, so does the migration. But no matter when it starts, their migration is an integral part of Africa’s ecosystem.

Wildebeest crop the grasses, fertilize the soil, and serve as food for predators. It’s important for people to understand this, and I’m sure “Great Migrations” will let us enjoy a view of their incredible journey as never before seen. That is, unless you are lucky enough to join us in Africa to see it for yourself, in person.

So I’ll be tuning in Sunday night. Will you? If you do watch it, let me your thoughts in a comment on this post.