Travel Notices

Archive for August, 2011

Travel precautions for weathering Hurricane Irene

If you’ve turned on a TV at all this past week, or checked your Twitter feed, then you know about the string of natural phenomenons that have been affecting the East Coast. First, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Virginia and its effects were felt from Georgia to Martha’s Vineyard.

Now, Hurricane Irene is headed for the East Coast, and meteorologists project it will be the worst hurricane to hit the coast in decades. Friendly Planet’s office is based right outside of Philadelphia, and we’re preparing ourselves for potential flooding and strong winds as we speak.

We have six tours leaving from or arriving to Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Charlotte this weekend, and have already made arrangements to do our best to avoid significant delays and cancellations for our travelers. Travelers scheduled to depart on Sunday from these airports have been rebooked on earlier flights to avoid losing days of vacation due to the storm.

Travelers returning from destinations to eastern cities have been rerouted to other arrival cities predicted to miss the storm, or they have been rebooked on later flights to arrive a day after the storm. Airlines have waived change fees, and our hotel partners abroad have offered very special extra night rates for our travelers in case they need to arrive a day early or stay a day longer.

As always, our emergency phone is staffed by professionals who will know how to assist passengers who need us, so come what may, we’re ready. As I’ve said before, when it comes to traveling, safety is key, and we’re preparing as much as possible in advance for Friendly Planet customers.

For anyone who is traveling to or from the East Coast this weekend (or ever finds themselves traveling during a natural disaster), there are a few simple things you can do to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

  • Stay calm. Don’t become overwhelmed as you’re navigating busy crowds and security lines. Staying calm, doing as asked, and going with the flow will help make your travel experience as pleasant as can be under the circumstances.
  • Don’t waste any time. Take action yourself, and don’t depend on someone to come rescue you. If you’re supposed to be leaving for a vacation, find out what’s going on from your travel provider or tour operator. Will there be any change in plans? If you’re trying to come home, do the same. Some states have already declared a State of Emergency due to Hurricane Irene, so be aware of what’s going on in your area. Finally, if you’re in an area that is being evacuated, follow direction and get out. Take precaution and use your best judgment to ensure safety for both you and your family.
  • Keep your cell phone fully charged. Same goes for your tablet, computer or any other device you use to stay connected. If possible, buy a redundant power supply that works like a case for your phone. Most electronics stores offer these handy combination cell phone cases and extra battery supply for less than $50. Having one of these devices will extend your cell phone’s battery life at least 100 percent. If power goes out, or if you’re stuck without ability to recharge, this extra battery power can make all the difference.
  • Have cash. Always have extra cash on hand. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip into your stash, but if you have some extra costs in an emergency, you’ll be covered and won’t feel panicked.
  • Be informed. Stay up to date with what’s going on around you so you can make informed decisions based on the most current information. Use the internet to find out the latest information, or just stay close to the TV monitor in the airport lobby. This may be a great time to carry a small, battery-powered radio. You know, the old fashioned kind that you couldn’t live without before the internet?
  • If you don’t have to travel, stay put. The best way to avoid chaotic airports and jam-packed highways is to forget your plans and stay home. If it’s a business trip that could be postponed for a day or two, or a weekend with friends, think carefully before you put yourself in a messy situation.
    When you’re planning a vacation months in advance, it probably never crosses your mind that the storm of the century will hit the exact day you’re planning to leave. And that’s why so many forgo travel insurance. If you’re one of the people who’s concerned about money wasted on vacations planned for this week, use this as a learning opportunity. Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive and can eliminate your financial stress during an already stressful situation.

    We hope that all our of fellow East Coast travelers are preparing themselves for Irene and will take all precautions this weekend. Be safe, stay dry, and we’ll see you when it’s all over!

    Funding friends across the globe: Friendly Planet Travel supports entrepreneurs through Kiva

    I believe that giving back to the places you visit is a significant part of the travel experience. As a life-long traveler and president of Friendly Planet Travel, I have met and talked with people from all over the world who make our tours possible.

    This includes tour guides, bus drivers, hotel concierges, and more who serve us and our travelers. Many of them are my friends.

    It’s painful to watch how volatile economic and political difficulties have become, not just here at home, but everywhere, and how much of it has negatively impacted my friends around the world. That’s why I’m so happy to be a Kiva partner.

    As travelers, we encounter wonderful sights, sounds, culture, beauty, history, and people. We also discover 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. This is especially heart-breaking to me, because in many cases, it takes a very small amount of money to fund a project.

    So, motivated by a Friendly Planet team member who had recently joined the micro-lending bandwagon, Friendly Planet Travel started working with Kiva to help make a difference. Since partnering with the organization in April 2009, we have raised $36,975 to help entrepreneurs start their own businesses.

    We’ve given out 1,281 loans and have been able to help motivate people including the Sr. De Malta Group of Bolivia, the Cloche Plus Group of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mrs. Cathy Ndiaye of Senegal.

    This is quite an accomplishment, since the bulk of the loans have been donated in sums as low as $25 per loan. Considering that Kiva aggregates the small loans into larger amounts that borrowers can use to fund a business, it means that every one of us who can afford to lend $25 is able to help.

    The cherry on top is the money is almost always repaid with interest, and the repaid loan can be used to continue lending. That means the $25 investment can reach many more recipients and help many more entrepreneurs. That, to me, is quite incredible.

    We are inspired by the ability to help others through micro-lending, and we want others to join us. We plan to give away some $25 Kiva gift cards to get you started with Kiva micro-lending. If you win, you’ll be able to choose among the many worthy entrepreneurs on the Kiva website. Then, when your loan is repaid, you can donate your $25 loan to another entrepreneur.

    If you’re like us, you’ll soon find another $25 of your own to add to your loan fund. But even if you can’t, you’ll still enjoy the thrill of helping someone to rise out of poverty to a better place in the world.

    Stay tuned for our announcement on how to enter this giveaway. And if you bookmark our Kiva tag, you can follow all of our updates about our involvement with Kiva.

    Oh, and if you absolutely can’t wait and feel ready to make your first loan without our gift card, just hop onto our Kiva group and get started right away. Either way, I promise that once you make your first loan, you’ll be hooked on this good deed, just like all of us at Friendly Planet!

    Friday’s Friendly Funny

    Some Friendly advice for flying the not-so-friendly skies

    You know that Liberty Mutual commercial where a random act of kindness inspires another random act of kindness? The message of that ad popped into my head after reading Chris Elliott’s article about the attitude of our modern day flight attendants.

    In the article, Chris shares stories he’s heard of passengers who’ve had less than sparkling experiences with flight attendants while in the air. Could we improve our relationships at 30,000 feet if everyone was just a little bit nicer to each other?

    As the President of a national tour operator, I’m passionate about delivering the best travel experiences at the best value to my customers. But there are certain things that are unfortunately beyond my control — airlines, for example. Grr. Anytime you bring an airline into the mix, there’s a chance that quality customer service could go by the wayside.

    There’s been a lot of talk about how the travel industry has changed in the past 20 years. Invasive security measures, less accountability from the airlines, never-ending fees, cramped cabin space, and the constant battle with those overhead compartments, just to name a few.

    But what about the flight attendants that Chris calls out in his story? Many say that they’ve become less interested in attending to their frazzled passengers and more concerned with simply keeping rears in seats until the plane lands. Chris asks readers, do flight attendants hate their passengers?

    Personally, I don’t think this is the case. It’s no secret that airlines are cutting costs everywhere, and this likely includes the compensation for their overworked staff. These hard working men and women are probably stuck with longer shifts for less money. Their days are plagued with the same changing schedules, flight delays and cancellations, and disgruntled customers as every passenger waiting in the terminal or crammed in a too-small seat. You know how you feel when your flight is delayed or you’re stuck on the tarmac for an hour. What if that defined every day of your week?

    While this is no excuse to be rude to the paying customer, it gives us some insight to the mindset of flight attendants. It’s possible that what we’ve been reading as rudeness or disinterest isn’t directed at the passengers at all, but is merely a byproduct of the attendants’ unforgiving job.

    Travelling to fantastic, exotic destinations wouldn’t be possible without the work of airline staff whose number one job is to keep us safe. But in my opinion, passengers and airline staff could do a better job of working together to make everyone’s lives easier. The simplest things, such as those random acts of kindness I mentioned, spread virally and can improve the experience of everyone around us when we travel.

    Help a fellow passenger with a heavy carry-on. Clean up after yourself. Be flexible with a family that wants to switch seats to sit together. Respect each other’s space. And understand that a flight attendant can’t get the plane off the ground any faster.

    Doing our part to help flight attendants will likely result in their reciprocation, making our time in the sky more pleasant for everyone. 
    What do you think? Am I defending the indefensible? Would making an effort to be a kinder passenger make a difference? Is this a simple issue of human accountability where everyone shares some blame? Or do flight attendants simply hate their passengers?
    Anyone who knows me knows how frustrated I often get with the airlines. But I personally do not believe that flight attendants deserve all the blame for our bad experiences. Rather, I would look a little closer at their employers.  
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