Monthly Archives: July 2014

When it Comes to Travel Arithmetic, I Prefer Subtraction

timer18 Days, 5 Hours, 59 minutes to go. That’s what my handy countdown-timer app read as I began writing this post. It is amazing how much math is involved in planning a trip. You have to calculate the cost per night multiplied by the number of nights. You have to add your expenses such as dining, transport and souvenirs. Then you have to divide your remaining money by the number of days left and live within that equation. It is little wonder then that of all the mathematical functions necessary to travel my favorite is subtraction, namely counting down the days before leaving on a trip.

 

Travel is often a gauge by which we mark our time, measuring things as BV or AV (before or after vacation). With the increase of anticipation it is only natural that the decrease in time before leaving (also known as subtraction) would be a source of joy. In fact, I can even express it in an equation: J=A-T (Joy equals Anticipation minus Time). With every second that passes that equation plays itself out, building to a crescendo on the day of departure.

 

Of course, there are other equations that factor into the one listed above. S/D=X for example, with S meaning Stuff I still have to get done before leaving, divided by Days left to do it, which equals Anxiety. But that still doesn’t trump the blissful subtraction of hour after hour until it is time to check in.

 

Now I’m not one to bash the education system–I have nothing but respect for educators and their fields. But I have to be honest. Since leaving high school I’ve yet to extrapolate anything, use the Quadratic Equation, or encounter a radical number. All the math I need I learned in grade school, and when it comes to subtraction, both then and now, I’ve got nothing but straight A’s. And as my counter now reads 18 Days, 5 Hours, and 34 Minutes I know that regardless of whether or not I’ve communicated effectively, I’m now 24 minutes closer to takeoff. Yep, I’ll take subtraction every time.

Is there a “travel equation” you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

Categories: Miscellaneous

A Boring Place to Visit But A Great Place to Live?

The Merlion--Singapore's iconic mascot

The Merlion–Singapore’s iconic mascot

Before arriving in Singapore, I met a British man on a dive live aboard in the Andaman Sea who summed it up as: A boring place to visit but a great place to live. This struck me as odd, as I’d always assumed that the things that make a place a nice place to live would also be fun to visit. Yet when I got there, I could see what he meant by that, even if I didn’t find this island city/state anywhere near as boring as he let on.

 

First, Singapore is orderly. As anyone who has traveled through central or southeastern Asia can attest, this is not the norm. Roadways are clean, public transportation is dependable and the culture truly understands the importance of air conditioning (sitting nearly at the equator this is not a surprise). The city and skyline are modern (with the exception of the venerable Raffles Hotel) with all the conveniences and trappings of modern consumer culture. Crime is extremely low, no doubt in part to the stringent (many would say excessive) penalties for offenders, many of which carry the death sentence. So I guess I can see what he meant by it being a nice place to live–safe environment, easy commutes via the ring-shaped metro line, and all the chain restaurants one could ever need.

 

Skyline, Singapore

Skyline, Singapore

What I wasn’t so convinced about was his claim of it being boring. I mean, sure it doesn’t have the same chaos as India or Thailand, nor the world-class attractions of either, but this doesn’t mean this is a dull place at all. Orchard Road—the swanky part of town offers plenty of shopping opportunities. There are amusement parks and lots of water all around, with all the entertainment opportunities such venues present. There’s an awesome botanical garden showcasing native flora and original rain forest. And best of all they’ve got the Night Safari—a zoo that opens in the evenings when the animals are more active. Housed in discreetly-lit habitats, this nighttime adventure is both a great idea and star attraction.

 

So to sum up my own take on Singapore: Boring? Not at all! Up there with New York, Paris or Hong Kong? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A nice place to live? Possibly. So long as you can give up certain freedoms like conscientious objection or chewing gum and don’t mind a living in a constant state of 1000000% humidity then yeah, I imagine it’s a great place to live.

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , ,

So Other Than Convenience, Exposure & Increased Productivity, What Has the Internet Ever Done for the Travel Industry?

IMG_1631The other day I was recounting life before the Internet to my nieces, and I felt like a crotchety old man talking about the good old days when phone lines were used for talking and streaming had more to do with water flow than bandwidth. While an argument can be made about my level of crotchetiness, I don’t feel quite old enough to warrant the sensation of someone who lived in another era. But the sad fact is that I have—as have any of us born before 1990-something. In that time we’ve seen the Internet shrink the world before our very eyes. We can watch events taking place on the other side of the globe in real-time, conduct research without the use of a single roll of microfiche (remember that?) and immerse ourselves in virtual tours aplenty.

 

In the travel industry, the Internet has been like a two-edged sword. In some cases it giveth prospects, in other cases it taketh them away. It has simplified the booking process, and at the same time rendered certain services that were once part of an agent’s private domain (such as ticketing) unnecessary. It has allowed us to research destinations and properties with the click of a mouse, but has also left us wondering who to trust. Being the optimist that I am, here’s three reasons why I feel the Internet has been good to the travel industry.

 

1) Email—Remember when you needed to wait for the mailman to receive documents or written quotes that weren’t printed on all-too-smudgy FAX paper? Or when you needed get back to someone with an itinerary but could never get them to pick up the phone? Email made everyone’s life easier due to its convenience, low-cost, and immediate nature. It has also served at times as a buffer for communicating with long-winded clients who don’t grasp the value of your time when visiting in person.

 

2) Destination/Hotel/Cruise Ship web sites—I remember all too clearly the rear section of an agency I worked at as being reserved for glossy brochures of every tour operator, cruise line and hotel chain imaginable. I remember this mainly because it often fell to me to go through the reams of paper to make sure all was in order and up to date. Now, both agents and clients can research to their hearts’ content, with lots of pretty pictures and virtual tours. Given the visual nature of today’s society, having a limitless library to conjure out of the ether on a whim is a handy alternative to a back room brimming with publications. And in the meantime, it has probably saved a few trees.

 

3) Reviews—This can be tricky. Many of the reviews to be found on the Internet are not from professionals but from everyday travelers, which has its flaws and merits. For instance, on the popular site Tripadvisor.com I usually throw away the highest and lowest ratings and concentrate on the majority’s consensus. The more reviews the better, as it increases the chances for an honest cross-section without the gushing raves of people who thought everything and everyone was excellent to the superlative degree (the waiter was the most excellent napkin-folder, the room was the best rectangular space I’ve ever occupied, the guy at the bar made the most delicious ice cubes) and the sour-pusses who by their reviews alone make me glad that I don’t have to travel with them (terrible hotel and service–there was a mosquito in our room and management did nothing about it even though I complained for ten hours). Both agents and clients alike can gain greater insight in the places they intend to visit, and such knowledge can make a big difference.

 

It is pretty obvious that so long as this world lasts, it will be Internet ready. Times change, and for travel professionals we have to keep on changing with them. But when fuming over losing a booking because someone saw if for 50 cents cheaper online, remember all the good things the Internet has brought and maybe it can temper your frustration. If not, at least there are online communities where you can get some help 🙂

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , , , ,

A Luxury Alternative to $3 A Night

The courtyard dining venue at the Samode Haveli

The courtyard dining venue at the Samode Haveli

One of the numerous upsides of traveling to and around India is the tremendous value that could be had, and I don’t necessarily mean just low prices. For example, though one can find lodging for around $3 US a night, how many of us would want to stay in at the kind of place that can cover its expenses by charging $3 a night? The value is in finding excellent options (lodging, tours, food) at low prices. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident on my trip than when I stayed two nights in the luxurious Samode Haveli in the pink city of Jaipur.

 

The hospitality industry in India offers the opportunity for guests to stay in what are called heritage properties. This means that visitors can stay in former palaces and mansions (a.k.a. havelis) built long ago and refurbished to accommodate modern travelers. The Samode Haveli is one such place, belonging to a former nobleman, and providing an oasis of luxury among the dusty streets of Old Town Jaipur. (for info on what to see in Jaipur, see my blog post: Like Playing Chutes & Ladders with a Maharaja)

 

From the outside it seems quite unassuming—aside from the finely dressed doormen waiting to allow access. Once inside, guests are treated to the sight of a gorgeous courtyard with tinkling flower-petal shaped fountains and an outdoor dining venue. And this is just one of several courtyards to be found in the sprawling pale-yellow complex in the heart of the city.

 

The tranquil pool and bar area

The tranquil pool and bar area

There is an outdoor pool and bar area tucked away in one wing of the hotel. Covered and cushioned cabanas are there for those looking to relax with a drink in hand after cooling down from a day of touring. At night the discreet lighting and evening breezes make this a tranquil spot to unwind.

 

A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur

A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur

For those wishing to dine indoors (though as mentioned before, the outdoor dining in the main courtyard is a beautiful setting) there is an equally-gorgeous restaurant inside the main building. To say the decor is ornate would be like saying Arizona in the summer is ‘a little warm’. The artistry from times past is always on display on the Samode Haveli, which brings me to the best part—the rooms.

 

My unique bedroom fit for a Maharaja

My unique bedroom fit for a Maharaja

Just as in most homes each individual room has its own unique style and decor (as well as function) this ‘home’ offers a multitude of rooms each with its unique style and decor as well. From decorative arches, ornately-painted pillars and artistic tile-work, every room is different—a refreshing change from the homogeny of modern chain hotels. The only constant is a sense of history and architectural imagination. Try getting that at a Holiday Inn Express.

 

Its the little things that contribute to the big effect

Its the little things that contribute to the big effect

To continue with that vein, one of the nicest features of this heritage property is in fact the architectural nuances that permeate the buildings. A short stroll will lead to narrow, curving stairways, engraved flourishes in the corners, hidden fountains, and as is common throughout Indi—one-of-a-kind doors and doorways. All this contributes to a character that is often imitated but never fully grasped by new construction.

 

If the Samode Haveli were located in New York, London, or Tokyo, for a certainty the nightly rates would be astronomical. But since this is India—home of the $3 hotel—rooms can be had in the neighborhood of $200 a night, which is well below the going rate for a luxury hotel in any of those cities.

 

So if you’re planning a trip to India and wish for a little variety in your accommodation, speak to your travel agent or tour operator about the possibility of staying at a heritage property. And if you are going to Jaipur, I heartily recommend a stay at the Samode Haveli. It will cost more than $3 but the difference is well worth it.

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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