Resolutions of a travel junkie

Written by admin on December 31, 2008 – 12:27 pm -

What are your 2009 travel resolutions? Ask your friends and business colleagues and you’ll hear different answers. I’ve made my  resolutions but want to hear yours.

The following responses are some (not all) I’ve received from the frequent fliers whom I’ve polled:

- I’m going to travel only business or first class. No more coach for me.  Nice if your budget or boss allows it.

- I will upgrade wherever and whenever possible, by using the miles I earned by having my ass on so many flights!

- Please spare me from trips with multiple legs for the sake of saving a few dollars.

- I want to travel less for business and more for pleasure.

- I am going to take my wife or a child with me on business trips, when or if possible.”

- I will try to add some “measure of pleasure” to my business trips. It might be just going to a local museum or eating at the most unique restaurant in town. Better yet, I’ll ignore the TV and reconnect with out-of-town friends.

- I’m going to add on a day or two at either end of the trip (especially if it’s overseas) to see some of the area rather than only an office environment.

- I will wear loafers when I travel by air, remove my laptop and all metal BEFORE I get to security and wear a tear-away belt. But I will not be rushed to the extent that something is forgotten on the conveyor line.

- While traveling by air, I will stay away from families with small children and senior citizens (no offense, they’re just slower).

- I will seek out travelers who look like road warriors and follow them.

- I am going to bring my own meals for my flights. I’ve gained too much weight eating junk food (expensive too) sold at airports.

- Now that gas prices have come down, I plan to do more driving.

-Whenever possible, I’ll take the train rather than endure the hell that awaits travelers at today’s airports.

- I’m not going to postpone seeing family and friends who are getting older or with whom I haven’t had the time to connect because I’ve been ‘too busy.’

My personal resolutions definitely include many of the above but comprise others.

- I hope to be able to share some of my favorite places with people about whom I care and discover other destinations with people who are passionate about travel.

- Yes to flight upgrades. No to accepting the first room because it’s easier than appearing nasty and demanding a larger room or one that has been renovated.

- When there’s an executive floor, I’ll always opt for it, since the extra service is a real boon in addition to being able to use the lounge. Free breakfasts and cocktail hours are generally included and more than likely, these floors end up with my saving money.

My recent stays at the Four Seasons Hotels in Hong Kong and Bangkok must have set them back more than a few pennies. Hotels compete for customer loyalty on these “special” floors. I ate everything in sight, sipped tea and ate crumpets at the appropriate hour, drank champagne at cocktail time accompanied by a huge selection of delicious hors d’oeuvres (skipped dinner) and didn’t have to pay for WiFi. Plus, I could work in the lounge while my travel partner was sleeping.

- I’m not going to be intimidated by negative news reports from going to a city or to a country unless there’s out and out war. Obtaining visas may be cumbersome. But doing so is worth the effort.

- Not being a ‘tour type,’ I’ll spend the money to hire an English speaking driver to give me an off-the-beaten track tour of a place I’ve never been.

- When it comes to the regular must-sees, there’s so much information on the Internet that last year’s guide books may be obsolete by the time they’re printed and for sale.

- No more rushed trips that leave me feeling cheated as I’m heading to the airport. I hate knowing I only saw the tip of the iceberg of what there is to see. Allow enough time for serendipity.

- Travel is one of my main passions. But being prepared and flexible is an essential part of the experience. Develop ways you can relax when there’s stress. How about a personal mantra?

What are your new year’s resolutions?  Are you already considering specific destinations? Let’s hear them and anything goes.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Paris retail sales start January 7th for six weeks of bargains

Written by admin on December 29, 2008 – 12:28 pm -

Admittedly, the economy is terrible and many people are worried about finances. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should stop traveling. They simply need to know how to travel smarter because now, for anyone that happens to have some extra cash, it may be time to head to the City of Light for shopping and more.

Airlines want to fill their planes and they’re having a hard time doing that these days. Surf the Internet. There are lots of deeply discounted fares, especially if travelers are able to be somewhat flexible with dates. Ditto for hotels. There are many websites offering last minute and discounted prices.

If you need an excuse to visit Paris, shopping when bargains are real and plentiful is as good as any. The winter retail sales in Paris officially begin on January 7, 2009, and continue for six weeks. Stores discount their stock by up to 70%. If travelers are leaving the EU, they’re entitled to a tax rebate (up to 15%) if they spend a minimum of €175 in the same store on one day. Gone, unfortunately, are the days when visiting shoppers could accumulate receipts during a week and qualify for the sum total of the tax rebate.

The French are gunning for the shopping tourist trade and have launched a website Shopping Paris that tells visitors what’s hot and happening during the sales.

Parisians by nature love shopping. Paris has 17,500 shops (many aren’t much larger than a postage stamp). That’s 29 stores per 1,000 inhabitants. Once travelers are shopped out, dine at one of approximately 10,000 restaurants to refresh the body, take in a show at one of the 145 theaters to refresh the soul and visit one of the city’s renowned museums.

It doesn’t take much other than comfortable shoes to walk the streets and get some inspiration. Be sure to bring appropriate clothes. Even though it rarely snows (or if it does, it doesn’t stick), a knit hat, scarf, gloves and boots will undoubtedly come in handy.

Here are five new shopping itineraries targeted at individual’s different styles of dressing. Be sure to buy a Plan de Paris (a small book that you can carry with you that notes every street). Another option is using the GPS function if you’re carrying a Blackberry or an iPhone. Check with your provider before leaving the U.S. about activating it and the costs you’ll incur.

Clothes glorious clothes:

Classic: Looking for timeless elegance? Head to these areas: Montaigne, Champs-Élysées, Place Vendôme and Palais Royal.

Trendy and cutting edge: Le Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Haussman, Étienne Marcel, and Les Halles. Les Halles is a good bet for anyone on a limited budget.

Bobo-chic (or the charm of arty intellectual Paris): Sèvres-Babylone, Odéon, Charonne, and Canal Saint-Martin.

Creative and young designers: Try Bir Hakeim, Abbesses, Marché Saint-Honoré, and Saint-Paul.

Fusion Fashion World or cultural melting pots: head to Belleville, La Villette, Olympiades, Ledru-Rolli, and Opéra.

Don’t overlook outdoor markets. Even though many of them concentrate on selling food, there are usually plenty of clothing vendors. I’ve bought some terrific wearables for a fraction of the cost I’d have to pay in a store.

Even if a browser ends up buying nothing, walking these neighborhoods will teach a great deal about the city and its people. The shopper’s view of Paris after diving into the Paris-on-sale world will be far different from those people who take a city tour or a cruise on the Seine.

Visitors forget how small the city is. In its entirety, Paris is only 41 square-miles and the Métro and the buses will move millions quickly from shop to boutique comfortably and quickly. What more could you want?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Thai government’s push to rebuild wounded tourism

Written by admin on December 26, 2008 – 12:29 pm -

Following November’s  week-long Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport closing  caused by the blockades of anti-government protesters, the Ministry of Tourism is taking proactive measures. The airport’s closure plus the civil unrest paralyzed the tourist industry and stranded 300,000 travelers.

The country will spend $450 million during the next four years to reestablish Thailand as a destination of choice. Already the country has adopted an aggressive advertising campaign to begin luring visitors back to Bangkok and Thailand’s many resorts. Wedding packages, special holidays and discounted packages are some of the incentives being offered.

The government realizes that the recent incidents have tarnished the country’s image as a prime tourist destination and may have a lasting effect. The tourism sector directly employs 1.8 million people and generates 6 percent of the GNP. This source of revenue is a major factor in the country’s economy and was in the process of increasing.

Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said Thailand  traditionally welcomes 8,000 to 12,000 foreign tourists a day during its peak season that began in November. That number fell to 5,400 after the airport’s closing.

His optimistic projection is that  12-13 million foreign visitors may come to Thailand in 2009. The Ministry of Tourism is hoping tourists don’t steer clear of their country that has so much to offer. Having just returned from there, how I wish I’d had time to stay longer.

People who are currently spending the holidays there are enjoying far better weather than travlers who are stuck in the U.S., snowed in and having had their travel plans turn to mush.

With the election of the new government, the consensus is that Thailand is politically stable. Tourism should rebound. The biggest question is how fast can it recover and will there be another political shock.

How I wish I could afford to return to Thailand immediately. Paris is my next stop. But I hope to return to Thailand next year and hope I won’t be alone.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Back in the States, it’s plane chaos

Written by admin on December 24, 2008 – 12:31 pm -

I hate to bitch and moan – but here goes. Yes, the weather has been terrible and there’s been a pyramid effect impacting planes taking off and arriving. The airports have been bedlam and filled with people trying to get to their chosen destinations for the holidays. The weather gods have not been kind.

But that doesn’t diminish my irritation with the lack of communication airline personnel give passengers or are supplied by their organizations. To compound the normal travel chaos and my ultimate sense of disappointment, I was receiving messages on my Blackberry advising me that “all was well” after I landed.

According to all of the electronic messages, I was informed electronically I was going to sleep in my bed, after a nearly-20-hour flight from Hong Kong. Here in the good old USA, my problems started.

My plane from Seoul, Korea arrived at Kennedy Airport only seven minutes late. I had nearly two hours to get through customs, collect my baggage and take the SkyTrain to the United terminal.

My heart was beating. I can’t tell you how delighted I was that I was in time for my connecting 9:30 flight to Washington/Dulles Airport. The United representative who issued my boarding pass assured me I was living under a lucky star.

All went well at JFK until I I arrived at the gate only to be told that my flight was going to be nearly two hours late and the plane that was about to depart was oversold. And forget it, there wasn’t a chance in hell there would be a single seat.

Feeling exhaustion consuming my body, I asked if I could postpone my departure until the following day. Sure, they told me, but I’d lose my ticket and would have to be rebooked. And who’s to say there would be an available ticket? That option seemed out of the question.

OK — all was not lost. I’m a member of the Red Carpet Club. I paid for this privilege in the event I encounter such situations. Off I went only to find it closed at 8:30 p.m. Perhaps I’m rigid but why do I think the club should remain open until the last flight has departed?

Luckily, I ran into a friend who was London bound. He took pity on me and invited me to be his guest in the British Air lounge. Until the airline’s last flight departed, I could have a drink, something to eat and fire off emails on one of their computers.

The BA lounge reminds me of those in Europe and Asia and it doesn’t leave clients with the feeling they’re lucky if they can grab a cup of coffee or glass or something non-alcoholic. If you want a drink, expect to pay $6 for a tiny pour.

The United Express flight was further delayed to the point that the pilot apologized more than once, explaining that the flight was late leaving Roanoke, Va., before proceeding to D.C. and continuing to Kennedy to make a fast turn-around to DC.

As we departed at 1 a.m., my adrenalin was in high gear. Thank goodness the flight was fast or I might have suffered cardiac arrest.

Once on the ground, the next step was collecting the luggage (thank goodness it was there) and racing to the taxi line. Naturally, taxis aren’t forming long lines at 2:30 a.m.

When one appeared I wanted to kiss the driver and, naturally, I was delighted when he arrived at my holiday abode.

After thinking about it before falling into bed, I realized it has taken seven hours to travel between Kennedy and my final destination. The trip between Hong Kong and Seoul was substantially shorter and included a gourmet meal.

If I’m not making 100% sense, it’s because I’m suffering extreme jet lag. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I have to get my act together. It’s when our family celebrates all together.

I wouldn’t miss seeing the smiles on my grandchildren’s faces for love nor money. They’ll have to forgive me if their presents aren’t perfectly wrapped.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She wishes everyone a happy holiday season.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Preparing for a travel day from hell

Written by admin on December 22, 2008 – 12:32 pm -

As I sit overlooking Hong Kong’s landscape, there’s a nagging feeling radiating through my consciousness that tomorrow is not going to be calm. I know that in preparation for the journey I will need some serious therapeutic relaxation.

I am faced with 24 hours of sitting on three planes, waiting in airport lounges, clearing customs and hopefully arriving at my chosen destination as scheduled, in order to celebrate the holidays with my family. Rather than taking time to look at a last few Hindu and Buddhist temples, I’m praying to the airline and the weather gods.

Watching the boats and ferries navigate Victoria Harbor, the waterway that separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, is always magical. Lights twinkle and entice tourists and residents to venture out and explore Hong Kong, one of the world’s greatest playgrounds. It seems so peaceful. But, I know tomorrow will be a stress test.

One of my ways that I pamper myself in preparation for a long day of travel, it to make time for a massage and spa treatment.

As much as I’d like to eat a spectacular dinner, this is the time to pass on a large repast. After a morning spent running from one place to another at a full gallop, in the afternoon, I indulged in being pummeled and pampered at the Four Seasons Hotel spa.

For less than $100, I lived the life of a decadent sybarite. The spa session included a massage, a light lunch at the hotel’s pool and the use of the spa’s facilities. What a fabulous set-up. During my four-hour sojourn, I also treated myself to time in the sauna, the steam room and the Jacuzzi.

After that workout, spending a couple of hours in the vitality lounge where I was lulled into a stress-less sleep was imperative. As if that weren’t enough, each guest is given a spa robe and all of amenities one could want and need. Plus tea and a selection of ‘calming’ drinks and water are yours for the taking.

Each chaise in the relaxation room has its own mini-television screen and earphones, plenty of reading material, extra towels and a fuzzy cotton blanket that would make anyone feel as if they’re in a private cocoon.

Even though showers are mandatory before using the shared facilities, the “after” shower with its “rain sky” shower head is enough to make anyone feel as if they’ve had a mini-escape from seeing and doing. Hopefully, it will minimize any upcoming travel stress.

Some people opt for a massage after arriving at their destination, especially if their hotel room isn’t ready. Some airports have shower/massage rooms for people who aren’t traveling first class. They’re not free, but are godsends if you have to go straight into a meeting or simply sightseeing.

When departing from home there is plenty of pressure just getting to the airport and insuring everything and everyone is in order. A trip to the gym and possibly a swim are perhaps all that can be managed. Long-haul flights are precisely that — long.

But before embarking on the return trip, rather than shopping, it’s probably more constructive to prepare mentally and physically for the trip home. If the hotel doesn’t have a spa, there will be one nearby that does. Or surf the Internet. Unless one is traveling from Siberia, there will undoubtedly be dozens of spas that are unearthed. Perhaps the spas won’t be as luxurious as the one at the Hong Kong Four Seasons Hotel, but after any massage and spa treatment travelers can’t help but be more relaxed for the long haul back home.

If you have other favorite travel relaxation suggestions to add, please do so. Who said flying around the world is easy?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Bangkok – here I am. But where are the others?

Written by admin on December 19, 2008 – 12:34 pm -

During Thailand’s highest tourism season of the year, the lack of tourists makes Bangkok feel somewhat eerie. After arriving at the vast 563,000 square-meter Suvarnabhumi International Airport yesterday, we didn’t have to wait in long lines to clear customs.

The airport, which opened in 2006, is the second largest in the world and was slated by the government to be Southeast Asia’s major hub handing up to 45 million passengers per year.

But that’s not going to be the case this year because the airport was shut down by protestors. People were stranded in Bangkok and others were forced to bypass the country completely. Tourists have been blocked and diverted.  Many people have canceled their travel plans to the region.

After the airport’s reopening, airlines flying in and out of the airport have cut flights and planes aren’t flying at capacity. But now that I’m here, there’s zero feeling of danger. Our itinerary was a victim of the airport’s closure and we were diverted to Singapore before continuing to Laos.

It seems safe to return and there’s lots of room
Bangkok, “the City of  Angels” is filled with upscale and architecturally dramatic and inviting hotels. It’s estimated room occupancy is down by approximately 70%.

The country’s lucrative tourist industry accounts for up to 12 percent of the country’s GNP. Tourism experts state that the long-term effect could be very damaging to Thailand’s economy.

As December is the country’s high season, the lack of tourists isn’t simply a blow to the hotels and hospitality industry but to retailers as well. Residents from this region traditionally come to Bangkok to do their Christmas shopping. Stores cater to all tastes and budgets.

Deep discounts abound
Already there are deep-discounted sales in the toniest of shops. A walk through the Bangkok’s famed Night Market is distressing.

Contrasted with my last visit, there was a sense of depression visible on the faces of the vendors. One said that between the airport’s closing and the downturn in the economy, she wondered whether or not things would ever be the same.

Rather than negotiating for a pair of $10 pants, (and that’s always been a part of the give and take), it was easier on my conscience to pay the full asking amount.

Twenty-four boutique hotels and eleven travel agents have launched a “One Price for All Destinations” campaign to spur domestic tourism. The package features special room rates of 2,000 baht ($60) per night per person, including accommodations, breakfast and dinner plus airport transfers.

The participating hotels are in Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pran Buri, Krabi, Chumpon, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Samui and Koh Phangan. Bookings are open both for Thai and foreign tourists booked now until Feb 28 allowing eligible stays until June 30th. Normally these boutique hotels would cost about 5,000 to 6,000 baht ($150-$180) per night.

Thailand’s resorts are quiet and now is the time to snag a deep-discounted luxury villa you could never have imagined affording.

Even medical tourism is suffering
Medical tourism has become a viable and growing industry in recent years. People from all over the world are checking into private hospitals and clinics for essential procedures as well as tummy tucks and other cosmetic procedures. But, even that side of tourism has suffered; at least in the short run. One plastic surgeon said his clinic’s business has taken a dramatic drop.

It’s sad to think that Travel & Leisure magazine conducted an online poll where Bangkok was picked as the best vacation destination city. And now, it’s begging for visitors. If only I could stay longer and enjoy what the city has to offer. But I have to be home for Christmas.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis and is sorry her trip to Asia is coming to an end.

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8 rules for renting a vacation home or apartment

Written by admin on December 17, 2008 – 12:36 pm -

For a vacation or even an extended working trip, there’s no question it frequently makes sense to rent an apartment or a house rather than staying in a hotel. But how do you avoid ending up in a rattrap? Here are some rules to help find the right place.

Since the launching of the Internet, more rental sites than you can count are created each year. It’s no longer simply a question of surfing the Web. You have to be aware of some of the tricks of the trade and do your homework. After having rented villas in the countryside and rented out my own apartment in Paris, here are basics as I see them.

Dealing with agencies
There are agencies that handle excellent properties. If they’re doing their job, one of the members of the staff will have inspected the apartment, perhaps stayed there and worked with the owner to insure the apartment is in tip-top shape. The agency is your contact and it should be responsible for making your stay go smoothly.

Many have a local representative meet and greet you when you arrive and run interference if something goes wrong. It’s your vacation and who wants to wait for the plumber?

Agencies take various mark-ups over the payment the owner receives. Sometimes it’s hefty and much deserved. Other times, it’s too much for the service you receive. There are good and bad agencies. Some simply want to make the booking, deposit the commission and see you later.

Good agencies count on repeat business and don’t want to alienate property owners or rental clients. They take extra care to make certain the rental is a good match for both parties.

For rent by owner
Don’t dismiss rental sites that cater to people who want to manage their own property. I rent my apartment and I want to know for certain that twelve partying 20-somethings aren’t occupying my home when an agency said there would be four middle-aged adults. That’s happened. I want to establish a rapport with people who are sharing my Paris home and I’m more than happy to act as a quasi-concierge.

Special requests are accommodated. If someone wants an airport pick-up, no problem. No matter where the potential tenants live, a phone call is a cheap investment and creates a sense of bonding. Anyone renting a property, shouldn’t hesitate to ask if they may speak with previous tenants.

Know what’s included with the rental. Many landlords expect tenants to buy everything from soap to toilet paper. If they generally don’t stock the necessities, ask them to do so even if you have to pay. The last thing you want to do is dash to the grocery store the minute you arrive.

Here are 7 what-to-look-for rules:
1. If renting a house or villa, find out if there is a caretaker, gardener, pool person, maid, etc. and what time they come. It’s best if there is someone to speak with if, for instance, you can’t figure out how to light the grill or open the door on the European washing machine. You also don’t want to be surprised naked in the pool when the pool boy shows up at 10 a.m. to clean the filter. Serious owners have all this laid out for you in advance.

2. Know the house location and neighborhood. If it’s a totally new place,  independently determine what the specific location is like. Most disappointments generally have to do with homes in a neighborhood that might be very different than that imagined (farther from the beach, traffic noise, party neighbors and so on).

3. Study all pictures carefully. Wide-angle lenses can make a tiny spaces look like mansions. Ask yourself what can’t you see outside the borders? Don’t make any assumptions. Assume if you don’t see it; it isn’t there or it’s lacking. Be wary of listings where pictures provided look cropped and there are obvious things outside the frame (i.e., if you are assuming there’s five acres of isolated land, but if you don’t see the house surrounded by land in the picture then assume there’s a house right next door). Don’t be afraid to ask the owner to send more pictures if there’s more you want to see — they usually will.

4. Realize that the market drives prices. If a place is listed for 50 percent of the price of other places in the area, ask yourself what doesn’t it have? It’s most likely missing something (e.g. a pool or perhaps the beds are 2 twins in a small closet-sized room), make sure you understand what you’re getting. Study the fine print. Ask for the exact number of square feet or meters.

5. Home and apartment renters are often far more negotiable than a hotel. Unless the listing specifically mentions something isn’t flexible (i.e., “absolutely no pets”), see if you can negotiate check out times, check in times, small pets, schedules, even fees. Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes it’s yes.

6. Ask for discounts for extended stays. If staying longer than a couple of weeks, an owner may discount the rental.  And if staying a month or more, insist on a discount.

7. Sometimes renting a house can be an opportunity to make friends. If renting from an owner. Be friendly and interact with them. Tell them about yourself. Sign the guest book. Owners like re-renting to people who are good tenants. If traveling with children, many owners will be happy to introduce your children to others in the area.

8. Take care of the place, clean it up well, follow all the written procedures and check out by the agreed time. If you really like the property and manage to hit it off with the owners, frequently they’ll offer a free dinner or a discount the next time you have an opportunity to rent. Plus, they’ll email when there are sudden openings and bargains.

It’s judicious to take the time before your arrival to be sure you’re getting what you think and hope rather than spending  a week or more being frustrated.

As much research as you do, you may be still face surprises. The unexpected does happen. I’ll never forget renting a country home only to find that the day after we moved into our paradise, the people across the way started gutting their home. Thank goodness the workers left early each day. But still…

Feel free to add any ideas or tips I’ve missed. And I’m certain I have.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Travels to Laos — flexibility is king

Written by admin on December 15, 2008 – 12:37 pm -

Air travel isn’t what it used to be and leaves some people questioning whether or not it’s worth the hassle to take to the skies. I’m not of that persuasion nor will I ever be. But I have to admit that some trips are easier to take than others, especially when they entail multiple stops and unanticipated changes.

Here is a quick report about my current trip from the road, or airport, or hotel as it may be.

On our way to Asia, we stopped in Seoul and spent a night there to acclimate to the time difference. My friend and I managed to do some sightseeing, walk through a shopping area that caters exclusively to natives, take a fast swing through the National Museum and head back to the airport for a flight the following afternoon.

Our two-for-the-price-of-one-tickets on Asiana Airlines more than made up for the cost of the layover detour through Seoul. The airline service was among the best and most gracious we’ve ever encountered. If we hadn’t been forced to make additional changes to our onward itinerary, we would have been less stressed during our stopover in Seoul. But it has been a good lesson in flexibility (as if we needed the challenge).

Because of internal politics and airport closings, rather than going to Bangkok from Seoul, we flew via Singapore. Not anticipating that leg of the trip, we had done zero research. We were lucky enough to be able to book a room at the city’s newly opened St. Regis Hotel. It’s one of the most spectacular city hotels I’ve visited in years. Thank you Starwood for allowing us to redeem points that covered the cost of our stay (with butler service and all) right off of Orchard Road.

For anyone into the Christmas spirit, the city’s decorations are breathtaking. The airport road is lined with Disney characters — it makes you wonder whether or not you’re in a foreign country. After driving a few miles, the holiday decorations glow and glitter. But they aren’t the least bit gaudy and seem to inspire people to spend money. People from all over Asia head to Singapore for R&R as well as excellent medical treatment.

Singapore is famous for its written rules and regulations that don’t even permit people to publicly chew gum and there’s zero tolerance for drug use. There is no litter nor do you see broken down cars with mufflers roaring. Owning a car is expensive — the government has a lottery system for auto permits and then imposes taxes that prevent anyone other than mega-millionaires from owning more than one.

The one full day we were in Singapore, we hired a taxi to give us a tour of the city. We weren’t interested in seeing only tourist attractions and lucked out when we discovered our driver was a fountain of information and could have worked for the Chamber of Commerce. He committed to chauffeur us for an hour. But after three hours, we asked him to take us back to the hotel. Prior to driving a taxi, he’d worked for the government and wasn’t ready to financially or mentally retire.

During that three-hour tour, we saw most of the city, walked through Chinatown where the original houses have been preserved and upgraded and now house upscale boutiques. We learned about Singapore’s population and its importance as a shipping port as well as being a major financial center. Many multinational companies have headquarters here since Singapore is one of the safest places in the world to live and has excellent schools. Violent crime is essentially non-existent and people of any and all religions peacefully coexist.

The city is growing by leaps and bounds. It has an opera house, on-going cultural events and (for better or worse) will soon have a theme park. in addition to a casino. Its economy isn’t experiencing the same downturn and there’s still employment to be had.

International cusine is available from every corner of the world. Anyone who wants to sample many, head to an indoor or outdoor food court and enjoy food from multiple countries. The city is the quintessential mixing pot for people of all nationalities. What we would have given for an extra day to be able to explore more. The idea of not rushing was becoming a fantasy and how we wanted to really unpack for real.

The Hanoi layover
The next morning we departed for the airport at 7:30 a.m. The Singapore Airport is huge and even though we thought we had the correct departure terminal, we found ourselves in the wrong one and raced via the sky train to another terminal where we were on the next plane to Hanoi.

Our layover was five hours because of our forced rerouting. Spending five hours in any airport is no one’s idea of heaven. The Hanoi airport is one of the least exciting and how we would have loved to have gone into the city (we would have had time to have some clothes custom-made), but we didn’t have a visa to exit the airport.

The transit lounge in the Hanoi airport is tiny. Even though the airport professes to have WiFi, I was only able to receive and send email — it felt like the old days of being on a dial-up modem. I couldn’t even access Bonjour Paris.

Our flights and trip has been changed so many times and changed again –  thank you Imperial American Express Travel Service. This trip would have ben impossible without a good travel agent’s help. Additional flight changes were received today since one of our flights has been canceled and I suspect there will be more.

Finally, Laos
I am writing this from Laos, which is one of the most inspirational countries I’ve ever visited. The adventure has just begun. There’s no question I’ll be in a more Zen place after spending time in Buddhist temples and experiencing a totally different culture and a way of life and being.

In the meantime, here are two not-so-new lessons I’ve learned:

Don’t count on being in constant touch. There is no guaratee about getting an Internet connection or receiving and sending emails via a Blackberry.

Confirm every on-going flight. Travelers may complain about air travel in the US and usually with valid reasons — but when in developing countries, plaster a smile on your face, learn how to say please and thank you in the local language and leave your type A personality at home.

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis

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Packing the essentials: cords, plugs, adaptors and more

Written by admin on December 10, 2008 – 12:42 pm -

Not so many years ago, packing the essentials signified clothes, toiletries, medications and probably an adaptor plug or a dual current hairdryer if you were heading overseas.

For many people who travel to multiple countries on business, assembling a suitcase requires an increasing amount of time and attention.

I’m in the middle of my trip. I’m learning how prepared and unprepared I am. I’m collecting a list of essentials as I go. Here’s my list (and muttered comments) after a week away.

Cords, plugs, adaptors and more: they seem to multiply each year and why can’t more of them have multi-uses?

A computer.

Travel with an Ethernet cable. There’re not always easy to come by and don’t count on being able to connect via WiFi.

A Blackberry that may or may not work. If it works as a telephone, it may not be able to receive emails depending on the country.

A quad-band cell phone for which you can buy a local SIM card to make and receive calls at a more reasonable cost. Of course that necessitates being able to get on line in order to inform people of the telephone number of the week – unless you travel so much that you keep multiple numbers operative.

A camera, which necessitates a charger and a UBS card reader so the camera’s memory chip can be downloaded onto a computer and the photos can be deleted.

The most recent necessity is a set of earphones or a Bluetooth earphone (it needs to be charged as well) so you may call people via Skype.

If your computer doesn’t have a built-in web-cam, you may want to take a portable one. Don’t forget the UBS cord.

If you’re wise, you’ll also take some memory sticks or thumb drives to back up your work.

All of these plugs, wires and other paraphernalia will undoubtedly cause your suitcase to be subject to inspection when going through airport security. You can always check these items. But as they have become essential for dong business, most people carry them aboard for fear of their not arriving or disappearing.

Many travelers insist on carrying their personal noise canceling headphones to use during the flight (don’t forget extra batteries) and thick eyeshades.

At this point, most carry-on bags are so full that it’s a struggle to include your files not to mention a book to read.

There are bound to be items I’m forgetting. Please add them.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Discovering day rooms for long layovers at international airports

Written by admin on December 8, 2008 – 12:48 pm -

How many times have you had six to eight hour connections between planes and wanted to do something other than walk the airport’s corridors? There’s only so much shopping one can do or overpriced airport food a waiting traveler can consume. Many airports’ public spaces are so crowded and noisy that the concept of relaxing is an enigma especially since carry-on bags need watching like a hawk.

For a long layover, day rooms are are wonderful alternatives to simply wandering between Gate A-1 and G152. For intrepid travelers the choices for passing time have long been to leave the airport for a short local tour or meal or settling into one of the airport lounges with magazines, TV, snacks and endless drinks. However, both have their drawbacks.

Leaving the airport is fraught with anxiety and often just not practical. The thought of leaving the airport and missing my flight makes me itchy. Anxiety often overcomes the glory of the Eiffel Tower, the symmetry of Plaza Mayor in Madrid or a walk along the Rhine in Frankfurt.

Legally, I have heard, travelers are not supposed to leave the airport’s premises if they’ve checked bags for an ongoing flight or may need an entry visa during a layover to wander outside the airport corridors. And with airlines requiring passengers to be at the airport two hours before departure, there frequently just isn’t enough time.

Airport lounges are invaluable and some frequent travelers invest in yearly club cards so that if they’re traveling in coach class, they may access the inner sanctum, do some work, eat something or simply relax. But it is rare to find a business class level lounge that is good for catching up on sleep or freshening up.

The day room alternative
Airport day rooms are an alternative that I have just discovered after crossing the Pacific. A few airports have day rooms but finding them isn’t an easy Google search. With flights being cut and more travelers being forced to wait in order to get from here to there, day rooms undoubtedly have a growing future.

Here are a few day rooms or short-stay airport rooms that I have found after speaking with international travelers and browsing the Internet.

Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick Airports have “YOTEL” based on Japanese Capsule hotel models. Passengers don’t have to exit security to access these rooms. The small cubicles feel more like boat cabins than hotel rooms, but the serve their purpose. Occupants can sleep, read, shower, power up computers and use the free WiFi. No one would want to spend an entire honeymoon in a place like this but Yotels are a boon for tired travelers.

There are day rooms at Narita Airport in Tokyo but they’re rumored to be similar to slightly tacky plastic cubicles and are so small that people with claustrophobia want out as soon as they awaken. Others feel they serve their purpose.

The room was small, but we actually fit on the bed, which is more than we can say for most beds in China, including the one in our apartment. Soap and shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste[1], are all provided. They even do wake-up calls.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport — Day rooms are available for passengers on the 2nd and 4th floor of Terminal 1 & 2 at reasonable rates for six hours with soft drinks, Tel: 535-3710-24.

The Hong Kong airport has shower rooms for rent as well as rooms where mothers may take their infants to nurse.

Singapore Changi Airport offers 73 transit hotel rooms in Terminal 1 and 73 in Terminal 2. Rentals are in six-hourly blocks ranging between $37 and $42 for single or double occupancy. Showers, gym and sauna facilities are also available at extra cost for non-transit hotel occupants.

The Dubai Airport has 88 rooms in the 5-star Dubai International Hotel, on the arrivals level of Sheikh Rashid Terminal. But don’t they come cheap — expect to pay $41 to $62 an hour!

Travelers wanting to rest and relax between flights will most probably have to exit the customs area and head to hotels adjoining the terminals (such as the Sheridan Hotel at Paris’s CDG Airport or the Hilton or Thistle at London Heathrow) or motels and hotels within the airport complex.

Some will advertise “day rates” while others won’t accord occupancy. Many airports have reasonably priced hotel rooms available, depending on the season and whether or not conventions are taking place in the vicinity.

One suggestion: Access a couple of hotel Internet booking sites if you think you’re going to want a room between flights. Last minute rooms are frequently deep-discounted.

Be certain there’s a shuttle service to and from the property and the airport. If you have to hire a taxi, you may find yourself accumulating hefty bills as there’s a minimum charge for leaving and going to the airport. Plus, if a driver has been waiting in line anticipating a hefty fare, don’t be surprised if he or she is cranky.

If you know of other airports that have day rooms, please add them.

Another question for business and leisure travelers is would you use day rooms? If not, what alternative plans would you make? Very few travelers want to live in an airport. And eight hours in captivity feels as if it’s a life time.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis; and is currently in transit in Asia.

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