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May. 31 2010 — 3:51 am | 130 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Time Out to Let’s Go: A Guide To Travel Guidebooks

Belizean dreaming.

Image by Caitlinator via Flickr

One of my favorite parts of the travel planning process is picking out a guidebook. Some people just pick these up at the local bookstore for some basic tips and then drop them later, either leaving them behind at hostels because they’re too heavy or just let them collect dust in the closet after the trip is over. Not me. I treasure my guidebooks as a wealth of information on not just restaurants and museums, but also as an insight into the local cultures and customs I’ll soon be meeting.

Not all travel guidebooks are alike. Publishers usually determine and write towards a particular demographic, giving them a brand and reputation that is different from others. I’ve sampled from a wide pool of different guidebook brands, from the tried-and-true Lonely Planet and Fodor’s to some of the Generation Y favorites like Moon and Let’s Go.

Based on my personal travels and examining different guidebooks from a variety of publishers, here are some of my favorites.

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May. 24 2010 — 2:07 pm | 387 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Boutique Hostels Are Taking Over Europe

Living Lounge Hostel. February 2010. Photo: Rachel King.

Some people have finally realized that staying in a hostel doesn’t have to be a miserable experience – and bless them for it.

A new trend taking off around Europe is the emergence of the “boutique hostel.” Like the concept of boutique hotels, these hostels have some added frills, modern designs and an urban vibe. Plus, they’re cleaned regularly. Ultimately, the best part is that these upscale hostels don’t usually cost much more than the typical city hostel and are still quite a bargain.

Take the Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon, Portugal. Hailed as one of the best hostels in Europe, the Living Lounge lives up to its name, the ratings and then some. Located in within the center of the city, it was more comfortable and plush than most hotels I’ve stayed in.  The Lounge has a hipster-vibe to it, with themed rooms (i.e. I stayed in the “Lomography” room), plus beautiful living rooms throughout the building and a stocked entertainment center. Rooms are cleaned daily, the beds and bedding are well kept and comfy, and the bathrooms are spotless. (I just wish there were a few more of them.) And I did I mention the free port wine for guests?

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May. 19 2010 — 7:08 am | 529 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

UK announces new regulations regarding volcanic ash clouds

Astronaut photo of ash cloud from Mount Clevel...

Image via Wikipedia

While the majority of the chaos resulting from the volcanic ash cloud spewing from Iceland seems to have calmed down, there are still plenty of flight delays and woes for those traveling to and from UK and Irish airports lately. For the majority of the month of May so far, it has been an up-and-down roller coaster as to when the airspace over these nations is open and when it is closed.

Even though summer airfares are normally quite high, it seems like a risky move at this point for travelers from around the world to book seats on flights connecting through British and Irish airports (and potentially additional western European cities) as it has become impossible to predict well in advance if certain airports will be affected or not. This could be especially disappointing for those interested in traveling to Europe right now and take advantage of an exchange rate that heavily favors the US dollar. (At least for the moment.)

Now UK officials are getting stricter with how easily the airspace can be closed. According to The Guardian, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority has “doubled the safe limit for flying through ash plumes” and “will allow airlines to fly in contaminated air corridors for a set period of time once they have reached agreement with aircraft engine manufacturers.” CAA reps affirm that this change will reduce the number of canceled flights while promising that planes flying through these areas should be safe.

But all of this might not even matter if you made the sorry mistake of booking with British Airways this summer because you’ll probably be grounded anyway.

May. 13 2010 — 12:13 pm | 128 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Space vacations get a new price tag: $102,000

A Computer Generated photo of what the Earth w...

Image via Wikipedia

If you have a little over a hundred grand lying around, here’s a cool way to use it. Space tourism really seems to be taking off now as Virgin Galactic doesn’t seem to have this sector covered alone anymore. Space Adventures, a tourism agency selling seats to outer space, has announced a new fare: $102,000. That’s almost $100K less than Virgin Galactic.

The out-of-this-world trip would take place upon a vertically-launched rocket ship developed by Armadillo Aerospace, flying from the United States to the final frontier. The voyage will surpass heights of 62 miles so that passengers will experience up to five minutes of weightlessness (you can also do this at space camp) and get a really awesome view of Earth’s horizon. You won’t be waltzing up to a check-in counter and dropping your bags off as going into space does require a multi-day training session before departure.

While the prices are still exorbitant, they aren’t skyrocketing anymore. (That was the last pun. Promise.) While it will be years or decades until space travel becomes something that the common traveler can enjoy, it’s always nice to see a reduction in airfares.

May. 13 2010 — 7:59 am | 131 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Virgin Atlantic debuts pair of mobile apps for iPhone, iPad

There seems to be an iPhone app for almost everything, and now there’s even one targeted towards alleviating jet lag. Virgin Atlantic has debuted two mobile applications designed for the iPhone and iPad. The first is Jet Lag Fighter, which allows flyers to input flight information and then receive advice about a sleep schedule in accord to the in-air time.  Other items that factor in are exercise and light exposure. The sleep=aid app costs $1.99, but note that you don’t need to be on a Virgin Atlantic flight to take advantage of this app.

The second app is a standard VA flight tracker application, which is free and does exactly what the name says it does. Some of the more nifty features with this flight tracker not seen on comparable apps include seat maps, iPhone alerts when flights land and some impressive graphics.

Virgin Atlantic’s new apps follow the airline’s first program, Flying Without Fear, which is designed to help passengers overcome their fears of flying. While the flight tracker seems plainly practical, the jet lag and fear of flying programs both come across as useful but still innovative. Other airlines have mobile applications, but the majority of them just project flight times and airfares. All of Virgin’s airlines (Atlantic, America and V Australia) have enthusiastically embraced social and mobile technology marketing, and these programs are hopefully only the first of a large suite of VA-produced mobile apps. What kind of air travel-related apps would you like to see?

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist based in northern France, covering business, technology and travel. I've worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State, and had clips & photos published in the New York Daily News, MainStreet.com, and Irish America Magazine, among others. Before that, I obtained a B.A. in Mass Communications and History from the University of California, Berkeley and a M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University, where I served as art director for the student magazine, Plated. I also currently cover digital cameras and camcorders for ZDNet.

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