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SUMMER OFFERS A TACIT INVITATION TO CLEAR OUR HEADS IN NATURE'S SPECTACLES IN THE WEST.

WELCOME TO URBANICITY
SENSING URBANITY
LISTENING FOR WORDS
VIEWING IMAGES OF MYSTERY
LOVING MUSIC
READING FOR LIVING
CELEBRATING THE MIND
TRAVELING TO EXPLORE
SEARCHING THE FUTURE
MAKING A DIFFERENCE

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An IMAX trip just doesn't do it. You have to be there-- anywhere that puts your mind and body on earth you can kick-- in the trees, on the trails, under the open sky. It awaits, and it's closer than you think.

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Writer Paul Theroux

"Travel is a leap in the dark that will leave you a different person in the end."

Many book critics consider Paul Theroux the best travel writer alive.
 
His latest is "The Last Train to Zona Verde."  As a farewell voyage to Africa he traveled 25-hundred miles up the continent, from Cape Town to Angola.
 
"I'm at a place where I enjoy being home with the family. Why would I want to be away? One reason is curiosity about places I haven't been. The other is to see how places have changed, because when you see how a place has changed, you understand how the world is changing.
 
You need to get to a place to discover that thing you're looking for.
 
There's a reason to travel-- to verify which way the world's going.
 
At least I can say I put in an effort and tried to see it. To see things as they are makes you free- to see things as they are, not nostalgically, not as you wish they were. Jut to see them."
 
Theroux has strong opinions about 'vacation travel' and 'packaged trips:
 
"Travel magazines are just one cupcake after another. They're not about travel.
 
The travel magazine is in fact about the opposite of travel. It's about having a nice time or whatever. But that's the opposite of what I'm doing, and it always has been.
 
I hate vacations-- I have no fun on them. I get nothing done. People sit and relax. But I don't want to relax. I want to see something. Sit down and have a massage, have a spa, have a cupcake-- I go nuts. If I want to relax, I go home."
 
(above are snippets from an interview between Theroux and Andrew McCarthy, published in the September, 2013 issue of The Atlantic.)

go to Paul Theroux's travel wish list

go to Theroux in New York Times archives

                                                                

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Walkway in Zhangjiajie China

Dazzling thrills in nature's landscapes are magnets for daredevil travelers.
 
One of the newest is the acrylic walkway that clings to the Tianmen Mountain in China. It's about 4,700 feet above sea level, making it one of the world's highest observation platforms.
 
Anti-slip shoe covers are required for the walk, which winds its way around the cliff like a snake, offering  panoramic views of the surrounding forest. It's located in the Tianmen Mountain National Park, and is only seven miles from downtown Zhangzjiajie.
 
Argentina and Brazil got together to build the hanging platform above the Iguazu Waterfalls. Norway has built the astonishing Aurland Overlook. And Austria has finished its Top of Tyrol Project and the spectacular Dachstein Sky Walk. And there are more on the way.
 
But the Grand Canyon Skywalk is still tops on the thrill list. More below.
 
 

Outer Space at the Grand Canyon

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Inaugural walkers on Skywalk. Click to enlarge.
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Skywalk at Grand Canyon West

SKYWALK is the highest man-made structure.
 
Intrepid, vertigo-free spectators are lining up to circle the glass cantilevered overlook that juts from the west rim of the Grand Canyon,4,000 feet above the Colorado River.
 
Skywalk was built with a million pounds of steel, has dampeners to minimize vibration, and the ability to sustain magnitute 8 earthquakes and extreme gravity and wind loads.
 
It's a phenomenal money maker for the Hualapai tribe, and 'handles' nearly 600 thousand visitors a year. Canyon-side commercialism abounds.
 
Reservations are hot tickets in Vegas--  a 3 hour drive away. Plane and helicopter tours, buses, gift shops, horseback rides, a faux Indian village and performances by tribe elders entertain the 'Skywalkers.' There are plans in the works for a major resort with a clubhouse, and a canyon-side golf course. Yuck!
 
This place of great spiritual significance for millennia is not just photo-op central for tourists. It's the focus of fierce legal battles over revenue splits between the tribe and David Jin, who created the Skywalk in 2003.

go to the Skywalk Visitors Center

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Skywalk height dwarfs other tall icons.
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin took  a "space walk" to join Hualapai leaders for the Skywalk's opening day ceremony. It was recorded by the BBC.

                                                        

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For travelers who like off-beat settings to relax, there are hundreds of choices. Here, in Champagnac-de-Belar, France, in the heart of Perigord, is "a room with a view." The Le Moulin Du Roc Hotel was built in 1670 and the River Dronne runs through it.

                                                                     

Get your 'Travel Smarts'

Demand for travel is higher in 2012. Hotels are hiking up rates. Airlines are cutting capacity and dealing with volatile oil prices. Bookings are higher and budget travel is tougher.

You need to be savvy to find deals when predictions are dicier than roulette. So tweak the system to your advantage. Sophisticated web sites can help.

If you know your destination and are flexible on dates, go to Itasoftware to find current calendars of lowest fares. Bing’s price predictor can determine the likelihood of fares rising or falling within the week – with 75% accuracy. So it’s worth a look. Airfare Watchdog finds airline sales and deals that most other sites miss.

If your use Priceline you may be ‘missing in action’ if you’re not a well-prepped bidder. Go behind the scenes. Bidding for Travel and Better Bidding offer advice on how to game the system. 

Bidding Traveler goes a step further. Just enter the city, dates, and star rating you want. After reviewing the sites recommendations, enter a ‘lowball’ bid and a ‘final offer.’ Then you’ll see the calculations that will help you execute your optimal bidding strategy on Priceline.

Hotels offers thousands of properties in sixty countries from national chain hotels, resorts, and bed-and breakfasts. It shows last-minute deals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Autoslash searches the web for discount coupons on car rentals and applies them after you book. It continually checks for lower rates and applies all the discounts it finds. For cruisers, cruise Cayole to get price predictions that will let you time your trip for lowest fares.

And don't forget the amazing Kayak Explore. It shows where you can go for a certain price and depicts destinations on a map. You can narrow your search my month, region, flight length or weather. Here are the links:

go to Itasoftware

go to Bing Travel

go to Airfare Watchdog

go to Bidding for Travel

go to Better Bidding

go to Bidding Traveler

go to Hotels

go to Autoslash

go to Cayole

go to Kayak Explore

Here are a couple more to track air fares:

go to Fare Compare to track price patterns

go to Yapta to track price fluctuations

                                                      

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Photo: H. Koppdelaney.

Where are you going?

                                                          

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The newest transit in Rio de Janeiro is a gondola system over the favelas.
Overhead Transit in Rio
 
Planning for the upcoming 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio needed more mass transit. A major problem was traversing the infamous favelas of Complexo do Alemao on steep hillsides-- an impossibility on ground. The favelas offer no direct routes-- but rather a lot of zigzaging up a maze of stairways, switchbacks, and yard-wide alleyways.
 
So 152 new gondolas will carry 30 thousand people a day along a straight two miles in a 16-minute sky ride. The alternative would be a difficult hour-and-a-half trudge to a neary commuter rail station.
 
Now the tourists can get an overview of one of the world's largest slums without getting their shoes dusty.
 
 
 

                                                        

Souvenir:
 
The French root of the word means 'remember the adventure.'
 
Can a T-shirt, shot glass, or other kitschy junk do this? Better to save your money and return home empty-handed but full of memories." - Matt Gross
 
Better yet-- return with something wonderful... that connects you with with a place, a moment-- and has a lasting personal resonance.

                                                      

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Comfort and scenery on the California Zephr.

America the Beautiful.
Relax and ride the rails.
 
The California Zephyr route is one of the most scenic trips in North America. Running from Chicago to San Francisco it goes through the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, and courses through the plains.

go to California Zephr Route

Take your pick of routes:
Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Hiawatha, Lake Shore Limited, Cascades, Missouri River Runner, Texas Eagle, Southwest Chief, Acela Express, Adirondack, Carolinian, Crescent, Downeaster, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone, Pennsylvanian, Maple Leaf, Sunset Limited, or the Heartland Flyer. There's lots to see.

                                                         

Choose the best seat!
 
Before you choose your airline seat consult the ultimate source.
 
Seat Guru gives you detailed airline seat maps, showing seats with limited recline, meager leg room, and misaligned windows. Superior and substandard seats are color coded to help you make a good choice. Enjoy your trip.

                                                 

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Graphic courtesy of UrbisMedia 2010
Driven to Distraction?
 
Nuroscientists are finding that the human brain isn't designed for multi-tasking and does much better when concentrating on one thing at a time.
 
Driving requires concentration. Using our tech-age gadgets while behing the wheel often leads to deathly results from taking "eyes off the road."
 
Yikes. People are getting killed-- a lot-- by distracted drivers. What does one feel after taking a life because of a cell phone call? It must be awful.
 
Because of increased injuries and deaths, the U.S. Department of Transportation is putting top priority on campaigns against distracted driving. (So is Oprah). Take a look at the official U.S. government website for more info.

go to Distraction

                                                   

The Big Island.

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Fiery lava flow on the Big Island.

Deep immersion with land, sea, and lava stirs the soul. It happens on Hawai'i.
 
The Big Island has five volcanoes, including the world's most active. Mauna Kea's summit, at 13,000 feet, is home to the world's finest telescopes. Between the stargazing and the molten lava spilling into the sea you'll discover the secrets of the earth.

Nowhere else will you find the diversity of Hawai'i. Rain forests, lava deserts,  snow-covered mountains, and a spunky volcano. And under all is fire and the origins of creation.

more photos: Hawai'i

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Lava in the sea. Click to enlarge.

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Looking for volcanic activity off Chain of Craters Road on the Big Island of Hawai'i

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Entry, Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo campus, University of Hawai'i. Photo: Lorbit. Click to enlarge.
The Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawai'i - Hilo is a must-see. The entry mosaic depicts the fury of Pele, the volcano goddess of fire.

go to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

go to National Geographic video - Getting photos of the Volcano

                                                      

Writers put a travelogue in a line and find truth.
 
"Not all who wander are lost."
- J.R.R.Tolkein

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go Google Earth

                                                    

New York Times correspondents will give you the low-down about travel in major European cities. These writers know the best places-- and the over-rated. They report from Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome. If you're traveling to these cities, take advantage of their savvy. 
 
It's a great site-- but before it comes up you'll be asked to do a (free) log-on to the New York Times.

go to correspondent's guide to Europe

                                  

TAP INTO COLLECTED WISDOM
 
The web has lots of "travel community sites" filled with trip reviews, photos, advice blogs, tips and links.  The most popular are BOO and TravellersPoint. They hold the collected wisdom of more than a million travelers and thousands of destinations. If you're planning a trip check these out.
 
                                                
 
 
Trip tip: take just a minute (really!) for a visual round-the-world trip, courtesy of the BBC.

go to the BBC Motion Gallery

                                                  

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Luggage at O'Hare International Airport.

Get rid of your baggage.

Ever consider shipping your luggage straight to your destination? No schlepping, lugging, or tugging along the way. You’ll sashay past the check-in lines, skip those carrousel maneuvers, and, possibly ditch the hassle of filing missing suitcase reports.

Think FedEx or UPS. Other options are specialty services that pick up your bags at your home and have them waiting for you on arrival at your hotel. For starters, google Virtual Bellhop or Sports Express, and check it out.

                                

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Tom Dempsey photo. Greece.

Give yourself a treat. See enchanting visuals of Meteora, Greece-- and much more by photographer Tom Dempsey.

"The world is a book and those who don't travel read only a page."
- St. Augustine
Add your content here

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Rugged coastline of a faraway and mysterious landscape. Click to enlarge.

How many dreams does it take to get to Easter Island?

The first mystery of Easter Island is trying to find it, for it requires an extra fine nib to place a dot out in the middle of the South Pacific. Such a teeny triangular piece of volcanic rock, less than 50 square miles, and 2,000 miles from Chile, the country that annexed it in 1888.

The easiest mystery to dispel is its name. Admiral Roggeveen arrived at the remote island on Easter Sunday in 1722. In truth, it was discovered by Polynesians about 400 AD. They possessed the Rongorongo script, the only written language in Oceania. The island’s native population of about 2,000 call the island Rapa Nui. Around the world it is known as Isla de Pascua. So forget the Easter thing.

There’s no denying the mystery of the island. And when you're there, the enigma remains. Some have suggested that Rapa Nui is a remnant of a lost continent– but scientists say that is rot. The thing to know is that it is one of the most isolated places on earth. If you really want to get away from it all, it's for you.

For travelers, the initial attraction are the Moai, those massive monoliths with human features that dot the coastline– and the petroglyphs: the rock carvings. In total, it is an open-air museum in a volcanic landscape in the blue sea. A curious visitor can only speculate. Who? Why? How?

If you want to visit Rapa Nui, it’s fairly simple. But you must forget ships, the twice-yearly supply boats, and yachts. For a sane person there is only one way to get there– by air. And the one way to fly is on LAN Chile Airlines. Leave from Santiago, Chile. The round-trip to the island costs about $800.

You can find a place to stay when you land. Tourism on the island is run entirely by the Rapa Nui locals. There are always island natives waiting to greet you when you land at Mataveri Airport. Many locals operate hotels and guest houses. They are remarkably friendly and hospitable and eager to take you in. Tourists who book a complete package miss this adventure.

There are now about 120 taxis to take you about. Cars rent for about $60 for eight hours– more if you keep the car overnight. There is one gas station on the island. You can rent a bicycle or a horse (though the saddles could kill you)– but you won’t see as much. Taxis are the way to go. (Now remember not to take that supply boat!) 

Here are some links to bring you up to speed on Rapa Nui:

                           

Travel writers-- authors who don't complain about book tours:

Thomas Swich, in "A Way to See the World," tells of travel writers happily flying coach on their first PB tour.

"We don’t see what novelists find so objectionable about a diet of fine hotels, especially when the rooms come reserved and generously paid for. Haven’t they discovered the mini-bar? We’re puzzled by memorists complaining about living out of a suitcase, because it’s infinitely preferable to living in the past.

"A signing in Dubuque is not a journey into the heart of darkness. The only possible trauma of a book tour is the potential encounter with apathy– the empty chairs of a ghostly chain at the short end of a mall in a town without pity. But this too travel writers are much better prepared for. We tend no to enter MFA programs, teach at universities, or live in New York City, so we are in constant touch with the great unread.

"From hours spent in airports we know that most Americans, when presented with large chunks of free time and removed from demanding home entertainment systems– will still find almost any excuse– a cell phone, a laptop, another bag of chips– not to pick up a book.

"To travel is to be continually reminded of the growing homelessness of the written word. So, unburdened by illusions and out of the house, travel writers are the happiest authors on tour.

"A book tour provides us with a focus, not always a given in our all-over-the-map trade. And the focus, in another pleasing twist, is on us."

Delayed Dismissed and Discarded
 
Last year nearly 1 out of every 3 flights in the U.S. was delayed, often due to unexpected weather. Considering midnight landings and closed airports, that's a lot of stranded travelers.
 
So American Express is pushing "travel delay protection," to cover expenses for hotels, ground tranportation, and food. When your flight is on hold, cancelled, or overbooked, they have the nerve to say "Enjoy your next airline delay." 
 
 

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Mt. Kailash, elev. 22,000 feet

Mt. Kailash, in the Indian Himalayas, means "jewel of the snows," and is revered as one of the most sacred destinations for Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains.

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"There is no place more wonderful than this. There is no place more marvelous than here." (Mt. Kailash)
- Milarepa, Tibetan Saint, 1078

go to Milarepa: Yogi of Tibet

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Sunrise at Kanchendzonga in the Himalayas

go to Access Tibet

                                  

Links Feature: 
 
Rudy Maxa is America's premier consumer travel expert . His feature "The Savvy Traveler" was a "must hear" on NPR Marketplace for 15 years but was recently cut for lack of funding. Such a loss! But Rudy is still savvy and just a click away.
 
For the latest scoops, deals, and travel opportunities, go to Rudy Maxa online:
 

Rudy's "Sav-Trav" Online

TOURNALISM:
 
"It's not an obligation of the tourist to observe experience so much as to have it. For me, a greater accuracy of perception comes out of that."
- Sean Penn
 
"Sean is an investigative reporter of his emotional life and our world. He goes to the middle of the hurricane. He's not taking a secondhand opinion. He really wants to know what's going down."
- Dennis Hopper
 
                                        
Popular destinations are getting trampled by busload after busload of tourists. Too often the places we long to see have lost their glow by the time we get there.
 
The National Geographic Traveler has completed a survey of great places that have retained their cultural integrity and environmental and ecological quality. It's worth looking at the scorecard:

go to Traveler scorecard

                                                         

Have you ever booked a hotel room in your home town, slept late, stayed in bed with a novel, ordered room service, and visited the local attractions?

                                                    

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Roof of Wat That Luang in Luang Prabang, Laos
Historical architecture of Asia.
It's just a click away.

                                                     

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And there are other travelers who search for the thrill of testing their physical abilities with long hikes, high dives, mountain climbs, and sometimes to the most extreme athletic feats.

go to National Geographic Extreme Adventure

                                                     

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Dining car on California Zephyr

Ever think of having a coast-to-coast train adventure? See the wonders of our land. Enjoy the company of fellow travelers. Relax into the ultimate joy ride.

go to a passenger's tale of crossing America by train

                                                                                  

OOPS, Our airports are a mess.
 
In the 2013 SkyTrax Survey of the world's airports, no U.S. airport made the cut for the top 25!   Our only near winner was the Cincinnati Airport that came in at 30th.
 
Major U.S. airports are a disaster because they need a whole lot more space that's not available. They can't expand. Without adequate acreage they are crowded and grossly inefficient.
 
Passenger transit access is terrible compared to top-ranking facilities. Our mass transit to and from our airports is almost non-existent.
 
Our buildings have been reconstructed over and over to their max. Because we sited our airports almost a century ago, when no one envisioned the scope of today's mssive air travel, we're in a fix that can't be fixed. 
 

                                                                                 

While most space explorers have their eyes on the sky, film-maker James Cameron heads into deep waters. After surveying the wreckage of the Titanic many times, his interests turned to the ocean's floor. He has designed his own craft, "Challlenger Deep," to travel almost 7 miles below sea level in the Mariana Trench.

go deep with James Cameron

                                                                   

What's the future of space exploration?
 
The American Museum of Natural History's exhibit "Beyond Planet Earth" offers many possibilities.

go to Beyond Planet Earth

                                                       

Seen the Milky Way lately?

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Click to enlarge.

Less than ten percent of US residents are able to see the sky in its natural, unpolluted state. Do yourself a favor. Get out there and tour the Milky Way. It's there for your wonder and pleasure.
 
Bring your binoculars and a sky-map and explore. Better yet get the schedules from state and national parks for their star gazing programs.
 
There are still places to see the sky as our ancestors saw it.

                                                      

How's the weather over there? Find out.

go to Weather Underground

                                                   

Need a passport?

go to Passport Office at the Department of State

                                                   

The slums of Mumbai are a popular draw in the 'poverty tourism' industry. Some call it 'Poorism.'

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Mumbai. Click to enlarge.

Slumming it.

Visitors take slum tours for a variety of reasons. Some have a ‘thank god I don’t have to live like this’ or "I can’t believe what I’m seeing" response. There are all manners of voyeurism. Some go out of compassion or empathy to discover and find ways to help. Some go for drama or novelty.

Some see art in colors, flavors, aromas, people, and scenery. Some look for specifics like road circulation, housing or public facilities. You can’t label slum tourists. They may be sociologists, urbanists, charity workers, or looky-loos.

In the past tourists avoided ‘dicey’ parts of towns, in the U.S. And foreign lands. Now they seek them out for a dose of reality. With more coverage in the press and television– they want to see for themselves. There is even a tour of Chicago ghettos.

Since the Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" brought the Dharavi section of Mumbai into international view, tour reservations must now be made well in advance. (In Mumbai's squatter settlement, a million people live in an area half the size of New York's Central Park).

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Mumbai vendor, posters for Oscar winning "Slumdog Millionaire," Photo: Rajesh Kurnersingh.
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Favelas in Rio. Photo: Arthus Bertrand.

Slums typically ring wealthy cities with 5-star hotels, like Rio de Janeiro (Favelas), Sao Paulo (Paraisopolis), or Cape Town (Nairaland). Most tourists find the slum experience personally and culturally enriching. Many get the feeling of being in the "real" city, rather than the "destination’ city of advertised attractions and bling shopping.

Of course there’s a down-side. A women in a hovel in Kenya’s Mukuru district of Nairobi’s Soweto slum was upset when a coach bus crammed with photo-snapping tourists stopped near her home. "They treat me like an animal, as if they were on a Safari," she said.

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Favela slums in Sao Paulo megalopolis. Photo: Stuart Frankin.

But there’s a huge difference between voyeurism and ‘seeing." When guide companies attempt to be transparent, human connections develop. Tourists may travel on foot, visit restaurants and buy crafts, and exchange expressions at eye level.

They realize that the economically poor are not necessarily culturally poor. Some may be moved to sponsor a child’s education. Slums are a learning experience. It’s a natural for travelers to seek a better understanding of the world. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be travelers.

You won’t find tours of Beijing’s Dasihilan slums. The Chinese government isn’t in denial, but wants to keep them off-limits.

Before the 2008 Olympic Games, nearby "eyesores" were removed with an unrelenting demolition of 171 villages. The city’s slums have been pushed out beyond the 5th ring-road.

Marcelo Armstrong conducted the first slum tour in 1992. He now has seven guides and about a thousand customers a month. With slums in every major city in the world, tours are becoming an industry unto itself.

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Divide between wealth and poverty.

                                                         

Find your Hotspots!
 
When you travel with your laptop and need internet access you have to be choosy about your hotel accommodations. A hotel may say they have wireless fidelity, (Wi-Fi), but when you check in you find out that their only hotspots are in the lobby or by the pool. Before you make reservations be sure to ask if they provide Wi-Fi in your room.
 
Guests want Wi-Fi and hotels are still struggling to get it right. Major chains now "claim" to have it-- but it is often limited to public areas. For true connectivity, check the hotel website to see their terms for wireless access service. Double-check. Trust, but verify.
 
 

                                             

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What time is it? Where are you?
 
Here's a good site for checking time zones:

go to time zone check

How cold is it?
 
That depends on your allegiance to Anders Celsius, the astronomer, or Gabriel Fahrenheit, the physicist.
 

go to convert temperature

                                                

Before you fly, check in with the Transportation Security Administration.

Choosing carry-ons is 'iffy' unless you know the do’s and don’ts on the ever-revisable list from the TSA.

go to TSA screening rules

                                              

Google for maps.
 
Need a road map? Just click on the area, zoom in, print it out or e-mail yourself.

go Google the USA for maps

                                                     

If you're risk tolerent, here's a warning. Stay off this road.

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This road from Coroico Yungas to La Paz, Bolivia is considered the most dangerous on earth. At a 3-mile altitude, it's a dusty ribbon of old trucks and buses crammed against sheer cliffs. There's a weekly death count. No emergency services and cell phones are useless. A by-pass route has been "under construction" for years, but so far, nada.

                                                      

Monitor your flights.
 
You can track the location of every plane in flight. You can see the air traffic around the world. If you want to check a specific flight, just enter the flight number and the airline and you'll get exact visual information.

go to global flight search

                                               

More and more our culture is global. Get dispatches from a shrinking planet.

go to World Hum

                                                       

How to get the lay of the land:

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On-screen or on foot?
 
You may want a getaway. But escape entails doing something different.
 
New lands of nature rejuvenate. Hills and valleys are up the road. Walking in the woods we remember who we used to be and rediscover our need to wander and explore.
 
Moving ahead we see more, feel more. Much better than being ferried a thousand miles only to vegetate poolside on a lounger.
 
Consider the opening lines of "Sea and Sardinia," by D. H. Lawrence:
 
"Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction. A double necessity then: to get on the move, and to know whither."
 
                                                     
 
"Not all who wander are lost."  - J.R.R. Tolkien

more writers on traveling

                                                

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Second Life avatar in soaring transport.
Have you teleported lately?
 
Explore your virtual world without jet lag, hassles, or crowds. It's free*, eco-friendly, and available any time you feel like flying around. Just go to Second Life and create your avatar. You may want to try Sunthravels, a virtual-reality travel agency with snappy (and pricey) guides for almost 30 online worlds, including the VIP Catcher, an Art Lover's Tour, and Matrix. Tourguides also offer jaunts through the virtual headquarters of real life businesses like IBM and Guinness.
 
If you prefer to ditch the guides, the online gurus at Wired magazine let you teleport your avatar to choice destinations like the Wengen ski resort. Or you  can check out Extasia, the clothing-optional Club Med experience.
 

                                          

Side Step and Kayak, both top travel sites, have merged.

Know when to buy.
 
Air fares fluctuate hour to hour. "Farecast" forecasts the fares. Get their predictions and save a bundle.

Looking for low airfares?
 
Dig for deep-discount prices. The "Travel Hacker" has 30 ways to do it. Shop the web-links and check out the consolidation and discount agencies.

go to Insanely Cheap Flights

                                               

Expand your global reach and save money.

 

Foreign websites offer cheaper deals. It’s a bit like buying prescription medicine in the U.S. knowing that you can get it for way less in Canada or Mexico. U.S. residents really face cost abuse by American corporations.

 

Booking a car rental overseas? Don’t do it here—do it there! Chances are you’ll get lower rates if you check out sites at your foreign destination. Going to Spain and getting prices at www.hertz.com? Try www.hertz.es and you may find the same vehicle for half the money.

 

Some of the best travel sites don’t even end in “dot com.” US.-based agencies like Expedia and Travelocity have created new sites in foreign countries that offer lower rates. So if you’re headed for Berlin try www.travelocity.de and if you’re headed for Copenhagen go to www.expedia.dk  For Milan it’s www.expedia.it or in Paris it’s www.expedia.fr. You get the idea.

 

It’s worth climbing the language barrier to get considerable savings on your trip. On www.expedia.com the lowest price for a round-trip to Australia on Qantas was $350; the same flight on www.expedia.au was $187.

 

Checking www.budget.com for a car rental in Dublin, the price was 109 Euros a day. The same car on www.budget.ie was 82 Euros. Looks like we’re being ripped off. So don’t limit your search—go foreign, where sites also offer terrific deals on hotels and side trip packages.

 

The hitch is that many airlines have different prices depending on the point-of-sale (POS) and will prevent you from booking on their foreign site with a U.S.-based credit card. Try to figure a way around that. If you have friends or business connections at your destination, they might book your travel—or you could book with an agent based at your destination. In any case it pays to 'go foreign.'

 

                                          

 

Space tourism isn't a sure thing but galactic gamblers are putting big bucks into spaceports.

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Above: drawing of proposed "Spaceport Singapore," a $115 million facility funded by Space Adventures and its partner, Sheik Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince of Ras al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emigrants.

One-stop Space Destination

Rocket-bound tourists may soon get the white-knuckle rides of their lives into the stratosphere. Eureka! Is there no end  to our pioneering spirit? 

The Singapore Spaceport is slated to open in 2009. Officials hope it will make their nation-state a leading force in global tourism."Space Adventure," a major 'tourism design' firm in Virginia, has the contract to insure visitors’ opportunities to ‘experience’ space.

Suborbital space flights, launched over water, will lure adventure-seeking tourists who can ride on Russian MIG jets and feel simulated weightlessness on parabolic flights.

For big spenders, tickets prices are $20 million for trips to the International Space Station (ISS) and $100 million to go the moon.

The visitor center will offer virtual observations from remote telescopes for live views of the night sky. The iconic attraction (with nearby casinos) will offer space-related entertainment and sightseeing cruises.

More to come: New Mexico will have its spaceport up and running in the desert by 2009; Oklahoma will launch flights at its spaceport by 2008. Perhaps the most ambitious port will be funded by the Crown Prince of Ras-al-Khaimah near Dubai in the United Arab Emigrants.

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Richard Branson and aircraft designer Burt Rutan, 2008.

Richard Branson, of Virgin Galctic, unveiled  "Eve," named for his mother, and said flights for the ultimate sightseeing trip for non-astronauts will begin in late 2012, after test flights and construction of a launch pad in New Mexico. The company offers three hour sub-orbital flights--  with five minutes of weightlessness.
 
Sub-orbital flight is the easiest form of space travel. The spacecraft technically reaches space-- about 62 mles above sea level-- but then falls back to Earth without orbiting the planet.
 
Branson has lots of competition. Jeff Bezos has "Blue Origin," and Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, has "SpaceX--" and there are many more in the "space pack," including EADS Astrium in Europe. So far the leader is Space Adventures, which has already sent several paying customers into the wild blue yonder. Ready to book a flight?

go to Virgin Galactic

                                               

Five best roads in the U.S.
 
I-35 through Kansas
 
Montana Interstate Highway
 
I-75 in northern Florida
 
I-80 in Utah
 
I-95 between Elkton, Maryland and Baltimore
 
Have anything else to add?

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This road is not for fire trucks or ambulances-- but you might want to give this one a try-- and then get your suspension replaced.

                                                                           

Get Out!
 
Our 'unbuilt environment' is the counterpoint of our 'built environment.'
 
The full urban experience is an interplay of its varied and disparate spatial music. One keeps us more fully appreciative of the other, and the 'entire.'
 
The spirit of acceptance and 'letting go' bonds us to a place and remains in our memory. Walk on the beach. Drive, ride, or fly to your desire. Take a break. It's summer.
 
In the meantime, take a virtual trip to Utah right here. Click on 360 panoramas that you can move in any direction. Terrific.

                                                

Island hopping by plane? Flying to airports less traveled, less crowded?
 
No matter the size or location of a passenger airport-- you need the CODE to plan your trip. From AAL at Aalburg, Denmark, to ZUH in Zhuhai, China-- and every place in between-- you need a CODE directory. And it's right here-- with just a 'click.'

more Worldwide Airport Codes

                                                             

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Madrid's Barajas Airport. Architect: Richard Rogers.
Lost in an airport? 
 
With remodeling and poor signage it's a wonder we ever get in or out without an unintended detour.
 
It helps to download  terminal maps for the airports on your itererary. For a one-stop guide to international airport info, World Airport Guides has the skinny on where to go for what-- car rentals, surface transport, airline and terminal info, weather, ATMs... most everything you need to stay on target.

go to World Airport Guides

                                                   

Did you know? Delta stands for "Don't Expect Luggage To Arrive."

                                              

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Death Valley National Park. Quang-Tuan Luong photo.

Through the eyes of Quang-Tuan Luong
Besides Hawai'i Volcanoes there are 57 other National Parks. Don't overlook them in your travel planning. Q T Luong's photo, above, is one of 4,000 images captured in his travels to all the National Parks.
 
Luong is the only person to have photographed all 58 national parks with a large format camera. Click below to enjoy 800 of these photos:

                                            

Check locations of WI-FI connections before you land at an airport.

                                                   

"We travelers are privileged beings."

A true sophisticate enjoys the ride. Spanish journalist José María Calleja is still giddy about travel.

                                            

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"God, I hate to fly," Kim Warp in The New Yorker

If you love trains and like to move fast, check out the best routes with High Speed Rail:

go to High Speed Rail routes:

Travel is an investment in memory. The experience is enjoyable, but it's the memories that we keep.

                                              

Check the plastic in your wallet.
 
There are now pitifully few places on the earth where Americans can stretch their dollars- much less get their dollar's worth. Not only do we lose big in currency imbalances, but we're losing more to banks and credit card issuers when we buy overseas.
 
Added currency-exchange "transaction fees" are up to 3% of your total purchase (hotels, restaurants, stores, et.al.) when you use Bank of America, Chase, CitiBank, Wells Fargo, or GE Money credit cards. This is on top of the current average credit card interest of more than 13 percent.
 
It's easy to see why banks love to see us travel-- the more we go the more they get (for doing nothing!). So before you pack check your stack of credit and ATM cards. Don't throw your money away. The website "indexcreditcards" has good info for comparing the extra card fees on travelers.

go to compare transaction fees

                                                    

On non-stop shopping:
 
"Travel is so much more than souvenirs and a smoking credit card."
- Rudy Maxa
 

                                                  

"There is no major case against life's enjoyments." - John Kenneth Galbraith

"I travel not to go anywnere, but to go. The great affair is to move." 
- Robert Louis Stevenson
 
 

                                                       

 
Try the National Geographic Map Machine.
 

go to Map Machine

                                                

"Exploring the Globe" is a travel blog written by and for people with a passion for travel. It's worth exploring.
 
Islands, mainlands, cities--
What mountain to climb?
Planes, trains or feet?
Luxury or roughing it?
Group tour or incognito?
What beguiles you? 
 

go to "Exploring the Globe"

                                         
 
Oh no! Not a pop quiz!
Which continent has the least vegetation? What's an archipelago? And do you know your Chilean exports? Answers and more--

go to National Geographic "Bee"

                                  

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Traveling with digital cameras:
 
Most camera purchases are digital. Even National Geographic photographers have gone digital. Few publications still use film.
 
Digital can enhance travel, and you'll get great results if you have the technique, patience, and time. Going digital requires a crash course in new tech-- yet most amateurs just unpack their camera, point, and click. You should know that there is real craft in creating digital photos.
 
If you think that the more you spend on the camera the better the pictures, forget it. Not true. Going to extraordinary places with an ordinary, affordable camera is a winning combo.
 
Capture the place you love with care. Think through the situation. See the whole image. Look at the light and shadow, foreground, middleground, and background, shapes, lines, objects, and positions before you shoot.
 
Being able to quidkly erase inferior shots can make us sloppy. Always try for a good shot.
 
Jim Richardson, who conducts photo seminars for pros, says "You don't need fancy tech, űber-pixel cameras, and stupefyingly extravagent features. All you want is a terrific travel shot-- and you can do it."
 
Check your settings before you're in a shooting situation. Then, when opportunity strikes, go for it. If you start fiddling with your settings you're going to miss the picture.
 
Digital helps with lighting since you can see it on the LCD. But don't use flash as default mode for everything. Flash can destroy the mood of what your eye sees. Pros often use an external flash and move it around until they get the soft glow they want.
 
Photographer Daniel R. Westergren suggests "To counteract the reduced angle of coverage in most affordable cameras, you can take three vertical photos of a scene and then digitally stitch them together."
 
David McLain first checks the possibilities:
 
"Photography is not just about taking great pictures. It's also about using the camera to help you explore wherever you happen to be in greater depth.
 
"I'd much rather visit a place with my camera than without it. I get up early and walk around. It's wonderful to see how the morning light changes everything. You see familiar sights in new ways."
 
But he adds "When something catches your eye, catch it with your camera."
 
                                   

Going to sea? Learn the lingo.
Know a pitch from a knot?
 
 

                                              

How about a ski trip in the desert?

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Dubai, that feisty United Arab emirate on the sultry Persian Gulf is the place to throw a snowball. Snowdome is its latest project aimed at remaking itself into a major tourist hub.
 
"Ski Dubai" has five ski slopes, the world's largest enclosed snow park, tobagganing runs, snow caverns, and plenty of room for snowboard stunts.
 
Just rent your clothes and equipment and head up on the quad-chairlift; the tow lift and flying carpets will quickly bring you back for another run. If you want ski lessons, head to the pro shop at the snow school.

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Fun in the snow at "Ski Dubai"
Let the kids build a snowman, eat at the St. Moritz or Avalanche apres ski cafes-- or reserve one of the private party rooms. The whole thing is about 25-stories tall and is 'forested' with snow-covered pine trees. Yes, it's cold in that three-foot deep snow-pack-- brrr--, but remember that in just minutes you could be sunbathing poolside-- at the humongous adjacent luxury hotel. If you really want to ski year-round, check out Dubai.

go to "Ski Dubai"

But now it's all downhill...
 
The 2008 implosion of "casino capitalism" has made Dubai a high-visibility never-never land that crashed in the credit crunch.
 
"Du-bashing" is a rather mild term for the rath greedy investors feel for greedy builders who never built and never refunded. Some property values have evaporated. There are a lot of holes in the ground, a whole lot of grief all around, and a stunning downward spiral in tourism.

                                                    

If you love the comforts of cruise ships and the adventure of disembarking at ports-of-call, you're not alone. It's a good way to avoid the stress of airiport hopping. The major cruise companies are building ships at a rapid pace to keep up with demand, but it's still best to book far in advance (or, if you're really flexible, you may be able to get a cabin at the very last minute!). Here are some websites of interest.

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Queen Mary 2 is Cunard's masterpiece. No Carnival Cruising here. With 1,253 officers and crew, she's the only ship with her own planetatium. She's gorgeous thanks to 250 tons of paint. The only way she's is limited is in height (so as to pass under New York's Verazzano Narrows Bridge). She shuttles across the Atlantic and does Three Continent Cruises: Norway, the Mediterranean, New England, and Canada.
 
She made her first eastbound transatlantic crossing in tandem with her royal sister QE2. It was the first time that two "Queens" greeted each other in the North Atlantic since 1967 (a highly debatable declaration!).
 
QM2 is unprecedented in luxury and roominess: 14 decks of sports, gyms, shops, bars, lounges, five pools, ten restaurants (including Todd English), and the Canyon Ranch Spa Club. You can enroll at the College at Sea, watch a "drive-in" movie, or play the classic British deck game of quiots (pass on that one). A lot of two-story staterooms, but if you shop you can find bargain rates on this fabulous liner.

go to the Queen Mary

You can cruise and snooze...
 
A good thing is that your room and your stuff go with you. No need to pack and unpack again and again. You can join in activities or enjoy the peace of being alone and doing as you please.
 
Food and drink are available all the time and in great quantity. You can do all-day grazing, long lunches, sit-down dinners, midnight buffets, or stay on your micro-biotic diet-- whatever you feel like doing.
 
Performances, gyms, spas, movies, games, lectures, and contests are your option. There are plenty of quiet places to sit and read, do a crossword puzzle, sip coffee, check your email, and daydream.
 
No concerns about where to gas up, catch a train, get a map, or find a hotel. You can walk and roam around without worrying about getting lost or 'being late.'
 
Depending on geography a cruise allows you to see more. Trips to Turkey, the Bahamas, Alaska, and the Greek Isles, for instances, are best on a cruise ship. With bargains aplenty, the price is invariably less than going by land or air.

more on Atlantic Crossing

                                        

When you're flying away:
 
With higher fuel costs boosting ticket prices, it's getting complicated to find 'bargain' fares.
 
Here are 5 Tricks of the Trade from Smart Traveler:
 
1. Check a lot of airline websites. Depending on their routes prices can vary tremendously. Also use sites like Side-Step and Kayak for price comparisons (you'll find these in  superb links).
 
2. It's often cheaper to buy hotel-package deals, especially for last minute trips.
 
3. Combine week-end fares with a connection through the airlines' hub.
 
4. Ever bought a "throwaway ticket"? One-way fares sometimes cost way more than a round-trip on the same route. Caveat: American Continental, Delta, Northwest, and US Airways (among others) "prohibit" throwaway ticketing. What are they going to do-- throw you in jail? Will you be fined? (find out) If you do this too often they get cranky. Another solution: Try airlines that sell only one-way fares (Air Tran, Air Canada, JetBlue, Independence Air, and Southwest.)
 
5. Check the Saturday fares. Some of the lowest unadvertised fare sales pop up on Saturday mornings. They want to fill seats-- and their competitors can't react til after the weekend.
 
                                
Points of view:
 
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."  
- Marcel Proust    
 
"Everytime I get off a plane I view it as a failed suicide attempt."
- Barry Sonnenfeld, movie director.

                                                   

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Celebrate astronomy: Take a space trip with your telescope. Get the lawn chairs and snacks, head toward a starry sky,  and take a sneak peek at the universe.

                                             

Make the Most of It
 
"The best way to stretch your time is not by rushing from one place to the next trying to fit everything in, but by slowing down. Let the days pass a little more slowly than you might have. Allow yourself the time to be somewhere. There's a tremendous amount to see. Pick an area, then narrow it down, making it more defined. Days taken at a slower pace can be the most memorable of your trip."
 
Sarah Schockley, "Traveling Incognito."

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Eiffel's Tower. Photo: Lorbiter. Click to enlarge.
Why limit yourself?
Swivel your tripod.
 
Skew your view. Twist your kaleidoscope a notch. Revisit multi-layered cities for another slant. Get another angle. Paris isn't just for foodies and shoppers. Stroll gardens.
 
Hang out. Find your fun. Turn the corner for a surprise that takes your breath away. Jump on a train to Avers-sur-oise or Chantilly. Walk the mideaval labyrinth at the cathedral in Chartres.
 
                               

Why are our airlines 'also-rans'?
 
In popularity polls U.S. airlines routinely languish shabbily behind stars like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and other "high rollers" with lie-flat sleeper seats and great food. This year American, United, and Delta are finally racing to catch up by pumping money into ground terminal facilities and in-cabin comforts. But will economy ticketholders ever get a break? To get a first class view of airline and airport rankings, check with SKYTRAX- the prestigious air travel advisory group.

                          

Superb links

Photos:
Arches National Park, Utah, USA.
Mubai's Coastal Promenade. Photo: Daniel Le Danielli.
Lava flow from the eastern rift in Volcano National Park.  
The Eiffel Tower, Paris- scheduled to twinkle for the first 6 minutes of every hour.

Remain curious.