Travel tips

Upscale travelers are just like us

Where are upscale Americans spending their travel dollars?

Should you do what they do?

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with upscale Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.  

So where are well-to-do Americans jetting off to? Here’s a story I put together recently for CNBC.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019 and shared a couple of Top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends.  

The Top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” notes Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot in the Top 10 list.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination is extending into the fall this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the Top 10 list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, Ovation’s Senior Vice President of Leisure & Independent Advisors.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard, “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard, “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted; in other cases, political fears may be subsiding.

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286 percent), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171 percent) as well as Malta (up 140 percent), Romania (135 percent) and Egypt (up 122 percent). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96 percent) round out the “Hot 10” list.

Where are upscale Americans staying?

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for Global Public Relations, “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56 percent this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, President of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, says hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” says Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.  

Upscale travelers and overtourism

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “But now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark, “Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon says upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.

Have a destination you’d like to tell us about? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

Tips for sailing through airports. Any day or busy days.

It is a stay at home holiday for some people today. But a travel day for millions. At that means some people will end up stuck at the airport.

It can happen anytime, of course. But as the busy summer travel season kicks into gear, I’ve been asked to work up some airport travel tips for the Weather Chanel audience.

Here are my notes for my appearance, currently scheduled for early Tuesday. Please feel free to add your notes too

Practice. Seems silly, but often in the rush to get to the airport we forget that we’ll have to partially unpack at the security checkpoint.

Make sure you’re wearing socks without holes, shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. And have your potions and lotions and electronic gear easiy accessible in your carry-on bag. 

Leave your guns at home.

TSA finds about 100 guns – most loaded – at checkpoints each week. I’ve given up wondering why people need so many guns. But if you carry a gun around town, check to see that you’ve taken it out of your purse or briefcase before you head to the airport.

Don’t miss the fun.

Look at the “passenger amenities” or “services” section of the airport website. (And subscribe to StuckatTheAirport.com).

Many airports have art or history exhibits, a unique shop or restuarant, even a special observation deck you may miss if you just get to the airport and stick by your gate.

Bring a wide mouth refillable water bottle. You don’t have to buy an overpriced bottle of water. More and more airports have bottle refill stations. Spend your money on something else.

Charge your phones and gadgets before you leave home.

Yes – there are more outlets in more places in airports. But someone else always seems to be using them when you’ need them.

And often they don’t even work. (Expert tip: check to see if that bank of chairs with outlets is plugged in before you use a chair outlet.)

To be a hero bring along a power cord with extra plugs so others can share.

Check to see if there are mobile apps – such as GRAB – you can use to order food ahead that you can just pick put at airport restaurant instead of waiting in line. 

An increasing number of airports have At Your Gate and Airport Sherpa – which allow you to order food (and even neck pillows) and have the order delivered to you anywhere in the airport. 

Bring snacks. You never know when you’re going to be delayed at the airport. Having something in your bag will keep you from getting cranky and from overspending at the airport and on the airplane, where free snacks can be limited or non-existent.  

Shortcut the customs and immigration line.

If you’re traveling out of the country and don’t have Global Entry (a paid program) download the free Mobile Passport app for when you’re coming back through customs.

Either program allows you to shortcut your way through that often very long customs line. Look for the signs or ask the folks stationed along the lines for where to go as the Mobile Passport sign is often not easy to spot.

The Mobile Passport app lets you answer the customs questions on your phone before you even leave the plane and sometimes you can breeze right by the folks who have to wait on a line to fill out those questions at the Global Entry kiosk. Hah!

Bring mad money.

I carry a $10 bill – sometimes $20 – to use as mad money in case I end up stuck somewhere mad and frustrated. I buy myself a treat; a cocktail, some candy, an overpriced coffee drink, a silly souvenir. I deserve it.  

Have a tip to add to this list? Please include it in the comments sections below.

How to survive Thanksgiving travel

Flying somewhere this Thanksgiving? Here are tips to keep sane.

 

A lot of turkey wishbones – and travel records – are set to be broken during the Thanksgiving holiday this year.

AAA expects 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the holiday, a 4.8 percent increase over last year and the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005.

For the 48.5 million Americans expected to travel by car over the holiday, the best advice is: leave early. INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts that in the country’s most congested cities the Thanksgiving drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house could take four times longer than it might on a ‘normal’ travel day.

Traffic at airports and in the skies will break records as well.

For the holiday period, which officially begins Wednesday, November 21 and runs through Sunday, November 25, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 25 million people at U.S. airports, a 7 percent increase over last year.

Looking a bit broader at the 12-day Thanksgiving air travel period already underway, Airlines for America (the airline trade organization) predicts a record 30.6 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines.

That’s up from the estimated 29 million passengers who flew during Thanksgiving last year.

Flying over Thanksgiving? Travel tips for the airport

As with driving or going anywhere over the holiday, the key advice for flying is: leave for the airport early.

That not only helps reduce stress, but builds in extra time for all those things that can go wrong, such as discovering your favorite airport parking lot is already filled up or there’s a hiccup with your airline ticket.

Transportation Security Administration officials say new screening technologies, coupled with an additional 80 passenger screening canine teams and more than 1,200 TSA officers will help with the increased volume of passengers at airport security checkpoints this year. But there may still be long, slow-moving lines at many airports.

To make sure you’re not the person holding up the line, take some extra time when prepping and packing to make sure your carry-on items are checkpoint-savvy.

*Dress for success: Transfer small items, such as wallets, phones and keys, from your pockets to your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint. Wear shoes or boots that are easy to take off and put back on.

*Download and print your boarding pass. Putting your boarding pass on your mobile phone means one less paper to keep track of. But a paper version is good back-up in case your phone loses its charge while you’re waiting on a long line, or if the checkpoint scanner can’t read the downloaded version of your pass.

*Review the rules. If you’re an infrequent traveler, find a quart-sized clear bag and take a moment to read TSA’s primer on the liquids rule.

If you’re traveling with food to eat during your journey or with a turkey or something else destined for the Thanksgiving table, you will likely be asked to take it out of your bag and put it in a separate bin for a ride through the x-ray machine.

TSA allows turkeys, turkey sandwiches, pies cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints, but foodstuffs that are liquid, such as jellies and cranberry sauce, need to travel in checked bags.

Unsure if your food it a liquid or gel? TSA’s “What can I bring” tool, available on line and as an app, can help and you can send a question about a specific item to @AskTSA on Twitter.

Here are some other tools and tips that might help smooth out your Thanksgiving flying journey.

*Charge up your phone and other travel gadgets, including one or more back-up chargers, before you leave home. While airports have added more power ports, finding an empty one can still be a challenge. Show up with a power cord with extra plugs, and you’ll be a hero.

*Download the apps for your airline and all airports you’re traveling through and sign up for the alerts for each of your flights.

*Get numbers. Make a list of all the phone numbers you might need for your trip. The list should include not only your airline, but also the rental car or shuttle company you’ve booked with, your hotel, the person picking you up and the person who dropped you off (in case you left something behind). Put those numbers in your phone and on paper.

*Pack extras. Bring along snacks, a hefty amount of patience, and your sense of humor. Add a stash of ‘mad money’ to your wallet. That way, if something goes wrong despite all your planning and preparation you’ll be prepared to buy yourself or your family a stress-busting treat.

 

Enjoy the holiday!

 

Travel Tips from Astronauts

Space pens ready? We have travel tips from astronauts.

Courtesy NASA

Courtesy NASA

In June I had the great honor of gathering travel tips and other advice from astronauts during a week-long voyage with astronauts and other space-minded people on the Viking Orion, the Viking Cruise line’s newest ship.

The Orion is named after the prominent Orion constellation and has at its ceremonial godmother, American chemist, emergency room physician and retired NASA astronaut Dr. Anna Fisher. As the guest of honor on the cruise Fisher was able to invite dozens of her friends along for the ship’s maiden voyage.

Anna Fisher – ceremonial godmother for the Viking Orion cruise ship.

Travel tips from astronauts

On the ship, I chatted many former astronauts and NASA employees about what it was like to be one of the 550 or so people who have been in space.

Among my questions: What does space travel teach you about being a traveler on earth?

Many of the answers are in my story on Travel + Leisure “9 Travel Tips Astronauts Have Taken From Space to Earth” and below:

Use a checklist

“There are many endeavors in this world that would be much better executed if people kept checklists,” said Frederick (Rick) Hauck, a former NASA astronaut who piloted and commanded several Space Shuttle missions, “I have one I refer to every time I travel.”

Don’t pack too much and be ready for anything

Charles Walker, who flew on three Space Shuttle missions and was the first non-government individual to fly in space, suggests travelers keep in mind what may be available at their destinations.

“Both volume and weight are critical for both space travel and terrestrial travel,” said Walker, “Pack lightly.” Keeping a composed attitude is helpful as well. “Be open to what’s around you,” said Walker, “And try to be mentally ready to take in anything and react to it in a calm fashion.”

Get along

Jay Honeycutt, former Director of the NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, said his years of observing astronauts and training them for space travel taught him that successful travelers are those who are comfortable with all sorts of people and those who are willing to pitch in when needed.

“Learn to do your fair share of the work that has to be done to make the trip successful and safe,” said Honeycutt, “And make sure you always have some fun.”

Be sure to take in the sights

“In space, you can look out the window and really get to know earth,” said veteran NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, (The Artistic Astronaut), whose was on two spaceflights and spent 104 days living and working in space.

Stott says while space travelers get unique views, there are plenty of awe-inspiring sights here on earth.

“You can go three miles down the road, go to the top of a building, get on a boat or on an airplane and get a new perspective on who you are,” said Stott, who is always disappointed when fellow airplane passengers go straight to the movies, to work or to sleep.

“It’s important to be awake and experience the journey,” said Stott, “And to be surprised by what you can see and feel along the way.”

Have some tips to add? Please add them in the comments section below.

 

Happy with all that business travel? Most say they are.

There’s no shortage of surveys out there slicing and dicing the habits and experiences of business travelers.

I read them all in search of trends, ideas and occasional surprising statistics and found examples of each in the new National Car Rental State of Business Travel Survey.

Happy Travelers?

In general, most business travelers surveyed (92 percent) said they were satisfied with their quality of life when traveling for business. Eighty-nine percent said they were also comfortable with amount of business travel they do.

That’s a good thing, because 90 percent of business travelers reported that they planned to travel at least the same amount or more in 2018.

What gets done on the road? 

I could identify with some of the survey stats about how much productive work, sleep and quality “me” time takes place during business trips. Perhaps you will, too.

According to the survey, just a smidge over half of business travelers (51 percent) reported that they were calmer when traveling for business compared to their everyday lives, but they also reported exercising less, sleeping less and eating less healthy when away from home on a business trip.

Most business travelers surveyed (57 percent) also claimed to work more hours and to be able to focus better (48 percent) when on the road.

What about down time during business trips?

Your co-workers, and family members at home, might think your business trip is – or should be – all business. But everyone needs some down time, and here the results of the survey were somewhat surprising.

While most (80 percent) of business travelers said they take time for fun/personal activities while on a business trip, 38 percent said telling their bosses about that down time was a “no go”; 40 percent said they avoided telling co-workers about any fun they had on a business trip and 31 percent advised against telling spouses or significant others about any non-work fun during a business trip.

Mixing business and fun

I’m confident folks at home, co-workers and even bosses wouldn’t begrudge business travelers a bit of time exploring a new city and I’m surprised at the “no go” and “don’t tell” statistics in the survey.

It’s possible to squeeze in some fun on a business trip – and here are a few ways to make that happen:

Commit

Become a tourist while traveling on business by adding an extra day to the front or back of your trip to explore a new city. Make sure you use that time wisely by buying a ticket to a play, museum exhibition or city tour before your business trip starts.

Dip into a neighborhood

If you don’t have official extra time in a city, try to take at least one meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant recommended by a local. Walk or drive to that meeting by taking the long (but safe) route around.

Don’t return that rental car too early 

If, like some respondents to State of Business Travel Survey claim, you can focus well on a business trip and you get your work done early, don’t head straight for the airport.

Use the extra hours on your car rental and the “Drop & Go” perk you get from being a member of loyalty programs such as National Car Rental’s Emerald Club to visit an attraction nearby the airport. For some ideas, see my previous post, “Heading to the airport? Hold onto that rental car.”

Have some tips balancing work and fun on a business trip? Please share those in the comments section below.

FYI:The National Car Rental State of Business Travel Survey was conducted from December 4-11, 2017, among 1,000 U.S. frequent business travelers in Research Now’s Business Travelers’ database.

While I was compensated by National Car Rental for this post, all thoughts and opinions shared here are totally my own.