Book Review: Hypertravel-100 Countries in Two Years

Book Review: Hypertravel-100 Countries in Two Years

Hardie Karges has one self-professed goal in life: to see every country in the world.

And he’s off to a grand start!

His recently self-published book, Hypertravel -100 Countries in Two Years is less about Karges’  journey to most of the countries defined by the United Nations as countries, and more of a journey into Karges’ mind.

That’s not to say we don’t get some powerful and startling insights into the countries, villages, bus depots, airports, marketplaces, cafes, cities and dumps he wanders through. We do.

It’s just that the three-hundred plus page book is really the author talking to himself and our listening in as he skewers a country (Djibouti sucks, and can’t make a good cup of coffee). Or as he makes an off-handed comment about a national characteristic: “There is something peaceful about the Iranian character, likewise rigor mortis.”

But don’t for one minute underestimate him.

His humor and  tongue-in-cheek approach belies astute  observations about the countries of the world, their people, cultures and traditions.

His hopscotching the globe could not have been accomplished with heavy reliance on the Internet, and his desperate search for WiFi spots  is one of the humorous high points of the book.

But so is his exhausting mastery of bus and train schedules, the art of ticketing convoluted flights that often take him back to a destination, in order to go forward, just so he could go further back from where he started.

This travel legerdemain requires fortitude, street-smarts, planning and tremendous sense of curiosity coupled with life-saving humor and patience.

But I especially love Karges’ sense of irreverence.

Take the Italian island of Rimini, for example, the celebrated seaside resort along Italy’s Adriatic coast. For most travelers, it’s a place for the rich and famously tanned beautiful bodies.

For Karges, however, in the summer, it “must be an anthill of sun-burned tourist butts strolling down the street in search of pizze and gelati.”

Or his initial impression of Cairo at midnight as as “halogen heaven.”

But between seemingly endless searches for visas, hotels with Wi Fi, cheap buses and random airlines to take him to even more random places like Somaliland (is that even a country?), the author shares a running commentary on everything from  religious overtones of Islamic or Christian enclaves,  to the street touts who try to scheme him.

Hypertravel is a guide book of sorts, but not the kind one reads for bus schedules and generic places like “the Middle East.” Karges unravels the places he visits,  and if he doesn’t go very deeply, he more often than not strikes  a true chord with an honest, clear-eyed look at who he is and who the people he meets are.

He’s married, and now and again confesses to utter exhaustion and looking forward to his reunion with his wife in Los Angeles. As to why he undertook the mind- boggling trip, his answer, again,  is disarmingly simple: “ My goal was and is to see every country in the world.”

There is one serious omission in his book, and one I was surprised to discover:  The total lack of illustrations and maps.

It’s inconceivable that a travel book such as his would not have visual summaries and examples of his journey. The reader, I’m sure, will grab his or her atlas and try to follow his routes. He could have made his book more appealing and interesting if he had supplied some of these reference points for us.

Karges may or may not be a modern day Ibn Batuta or Marco Polo, but he wrote a fun and informative travel journal that really should be read.

To see what this intrepid traveler looks like (and who his friends are), check out his Facebook page.

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​Women ‘Family Travel’ Bloggers Rule


Women Family Travel Bloggers Rule the Internet

Used to be they were called “mommybloggers,” but that was before their Klout scores soared and corporations avidly courted them.

And while I may be exaggerating, I’m not by much. This group of bright, engaged mothers (and some dads) who travel with their kids and run homes and blog, now run the family travel market and drive some of the most exciting conversations on line.

While CEO’s of hot start-ups and established web sites are pronouncing and  pontificating, these women bloggers and journalists are running high-profile Tweet chats with impressive prizes, turning out compelling, useful content and run one-of-a-kind Family Travel Conferences.

Anyone who has visited familytravelforum.com or travelingmom.com is quite aware of the electricity generated by  Kyle McCarthy and Kim Orlando, CEO’s of the respective sites.

Check in @familytravel4um and watch the fast-paced  conversations about travel zip by with family travel cohorts like @familyonbikes, @familyadvice, @momaboard, @familiesgo, @hvbabywillrvl, @foreverdaddy and @luxurytravelmom.

These are experienced travelers, sharing and having fun.

They are mostly women, all of whom have a vibrant thing going on with each other about all things travel: destination tips and trips; legal advice about single parents traveling with minors; top cities of the world; funny and touching stories; differing opinions, travel expos, etc.

They’re witty, unfailingly good-willed, and always supportive of each other and family travel issues

One a Tweet chat I attended, had a couple hundred participants, and although about 50 voices dominated, the others had their says too. The discussion went well past the cut-off time.

And you bet these family travel bloggers are  being noticed by big-time companies and corporations.

Why?

In part, as Ypartners points out, experience-based travel involving family and friends is the leading type of leisure travel. That is, visiting friends and relatives accounts for 50 percent of travel. Family vacations account for 42 percent.

Several of these family travel voices recently created the first-ever Family Travel Conference .

Under the leadership of Ms. McCarthy and Orlando, it was  at New York’s classy Omni Berkshire Hotel.

Who sponsored it?  Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Atlantis, The New York Pass and Visit Orlando, to name some of the backers.

The 2-day event was in invitation to 30 or so bloggers and journalists,  with family travel content experience. The blend of the traditional writer with Internet content creators was a wise move because the two groups learned from each other and provided differing viewpoints.

What was it like?

First, the Omni Berkshire was a clever choice of venue because it’s a smart hotel. The spacious rooms and cleverly designed spaces with accessible outlets, imaginative use of fabrics and plants is friendly and efficient.

There was a workshop on honing writing skills led by veteran family travel writer and syndicated columnist, Eileen Ogintz, and Pulitzer prize nominee, Cindy Richards, who teaches at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Kim Orlando, an indefatigable blogger and entrepreneur drove the Twitter dinner, which was more a live Tweet event than an  actual dinner. But it was more fun than most of  the conference dinners I’ve attended.

After a video workshop (Presenting Yourself: Ledes and Hooks),  participants scattered throughout the hotel, smart phones and video cameras in hand, and created on-the-spot content ranging from an inside look at the hotel’s kitchen, to tips from housekeeping on making a room look like new.

When the dust settles,  we probably were participating in the first of many such workshops about family travel, technology, monetizing content and  community.

What I found refreshing,  more so than conferences with top brass from from Google , Amazon and other legacy companies, was the openness and enthusiasm.

These “mompreneurs” combine humor with a depth of practical, real-world travel knowledge, and they make it all accessible by sharing.

With family travel a huge,  fast-growing niche ( 4.5 trips a year; 67% saying kids are never too old to travel with), this fast-talking cohort may well set the standard for online activity… and enviable sponsorships.

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Apple Ends Boring Visitor Information Centers


Apple Ends Boring Visitor Information Centers

One of the vexing ironies of travel is that Visitor Information Centers (VIC) do little to nothing to enhance or promote the destination they represent. If anything, they can be a “turn off” for the destination.

Visitor centers are usually some functional building filled with tired staffers surrounded by lots of brochures, a few maps and mundane kinds of information.

Almost never anything interactive

Great places to use the restrooms and buy a Coke and a bag of chips.

Not so with the UK city of Manchester,  reports Tnooz, the talking- travel tech web site.

Just as Kayak, the successful fare search engine, launched its new web site to mirror the best design features of Apple, so has the Manchester Visitor Information Center.

HotelMarketing.com says that Kayak’s redesigned site borrows heavily from its iPad and iPhone apps, resulting in simpler, more engaging set of pages.

Manchester’s technology-heavy, Apple-inspired design is geared to make “discovering the city fun and useful,” also using  clever technology-inspired experiences.

Tnooz reports, for example, a Mediawall that fills and entire end of the center and lures  visitors into participating in the Manchester experience.

There are wall-size, a real-time information screens carrying messages from local businesses, residents and travelers and pose fun, quirky questions like, “Mummy, why does the train go Choo-Choo?”

There are lots of desktop computers around the space for booking and research, and live tweets that create a living sense of the present.

The Microsoft Surface Table, which is fast becoming a staple of the industry’s need to engage travelers in their travel-decision making process, plays a prominent role in the city’s VIC.

The surface table is gives visitors a 360-degree interface that elegantly combines touch with real-world objects, and gives visitors tactile and informational interaction with maps, hotels, attractions and the like.

How successful is the Apple VIC spin-off?

Tnooz quotes Andrew Daines, who consulted on the project, as saying that 58% of visitors discovered new places to visit using the tech, and two-thirds of visitors actually cited the technology as a reason they would visit the center again.

So, the theory probably is, if you can get potential visitors to return to and interact with the center, actual bookings to the destination  should be the next logical step.

Unless of course, the Visitor Center  satisfies the need for the visit itself.

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Can Technology Reduce the Stress and Uncertainty of Travel?


Can Travel Technology Reduce the Stress and Uncertainty of Travel?

Andrew Curry, Director and Co-author of The Futures Company is a smart guy.

When he discuses the future of travel in Travel Daily News he makes it a point of saying he tries to avoid techno-centric visions of the future, stuff like flying cars and all-wise robots.

These assumptions or projections, he says, simply do not accord with the world as we know it. A look at the future of travel, he says,  has to take into account the infrastructure world,  models and social values that we know and have.

Very refreshing.

Still, that does not stop Curry and his fellow author, Eberhard Haag, head of global operations at Amadeus, the leading transactional processor for the travel and tourism business, from looking at (and predicting) the transformative affect technologies will have on travel.

Key to this, Haag says, is a “more intelligent information exchange. A willingness to challenge the status quo,”  and, perhaps most importantly,  “greater two-way partnerships between travelers and travel players.”

Their report,  “From Chaos to Collaboration: how transformative technologies will herald a new era in travel,” focuses on removing the stress, uncertainty and chaos, which is increasingly part of travel today.

After talking with social trends experts, industry thinkers and even futurists in major countries, including China, the US, Brazil, Russia, there are several areas the duo are looking at for innovation and  creative technological application:

• Travel is increasingly about depth rather than breadth of experience, they say, setting the stage for more augmented reality, gamification mechanisms and of course mobile devices

• Checking-in will be a thing of the past. With newer identity systems (chips, biometrics, long range fingerprinting, Near Field Communication, the stress of having to check in anywhere could be a bad memory

•  Stress-free travel is everyone’s goal, and stress can be dangerous to one’s health. Look for more  mobile Health (m-Health) applications which  will allow travelers to monitor their health as if they were at home

• The need for intelligent recommendations will grow considerably as technologies make it simpler to tag, review and comment on travel experiences. Likely, mobile devices will come with mobile tour representatives to curate a traveler’s travel experience

All good stuff, but at the end of the day, one wonders: If travel becomes more and more stress free and more like home away from home, then why travel?

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TripAdvisor Barred from Claiming Reviews are Honest, Real

TripAdvisor Barred from Claiming Reviews are Honest, Real

Hotelmarketing’s web site  broke news saying that a UK advertising “watchdog” ruled that since  TripAdvisor’s reviews can be posted with no form of verification, TripAdvisor “must no longer claim all of its reviews are honest or from real people.”

What can this possibly mean to a company whose entire reason for existence is based on reviews?

James Hall, Consumer Affairs editor at the Telegraph  noted that the language the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority used was very strong, telling TripAdvisor, “not to claim or imply all the reviews on the website were from real travelers, or were honest, real or trusted.”

While the ruling “only” applies to TripAdvisor’s UK site, the implications for the company are enormous, likely resulting in other investigations, and certainly a loss of confidence in reviews in general and TripAdvisor’s in particular.

In defense, a TripAdvisor spokesperson said that an average traveler reads dozens of reviews before making a travel decision and that they “have confidence that the 50 million users who come to the site have confidence in the site which is why they keep coming back.”

TripAdvisor’s problems were triggered lsat year by reputation firm, Kwikchex  and co-founder Chris Emmins, reports Tnooz. But, the site says, other rulings questioning the use of unverified testimonials in advertising will have broader implications and constitutes a very slippery slope.

For now, TripAdvisor is hitting back, hard. But the damage may be too much to contain, especially give the prevalence of fraudulent reviews across the board.

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Boulangeries and Mercis: Canada’s French Eastern Townships


Boulangeries and Mercis: Canada’s French Eastern Townships

The fields of deep lavender (Bleu Lavande) stretch vividly toward the green hills.

Donkeys at the donkey ranch nuzzle their mistress, and the honey bees buzz about at the Miellerie Lune de Miel, the honey farm.

About 150 miles south of Quebec and maybe 90 miles east of Montreal, the Eastern Townships of Canada (Cantons De L’Est,)  are so French, you may have to brush up on your language skills.

The villages and hamlets are French Canadian enclaves, and while the 95 Cantons may bear English names they boast a very French soul.
Some have only a few hundred people living among the rolling hills, meadows and lakes.

But the French have done what they do well: touched up their small towns with whimsical design and bold dashes of color.

The town of Magog, for example, bursts with flowers, small shops and lively street scenes.

Smells of baking bread and pastries drift from open doors of local Boulangeries like the Owl’s Bread where we sat overlooking the river with a fresh chocolate croissant and very good coffee in hand.

The owner invited us to her kitchen, where she proudly introduced us to workers who were twisting the pastries and baking the bread. “We could become the Canadian French Riviera,” she said. We have the river, the shops, the spirit. And we have good people.”

Maybe she’s right. Everywhere we went we experienced a joie-de-vivre.

Hovey Manor is probably the most elegant place to dine (or stay) in the Townships, but the Four Season’s Inn in Orford was perfect for our needs.

The new, simple, eco-friendly lodge next to Mt. Orford, has a nice mix of comfort and techno; soft pillow top beds and chrome.

Best way to see the Eastern Townships is to lose yourself in the country roads and road-side bistros, and be sure to practice your “merci’s

There’s a lot here to be thankful for.

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Loving Travel Almost as Much as Family


Snapshot of the American Traveler

It’s a bit startling to learn that our passion for travel is second only to our passion for our families.

I learned this from  travel trade sites which often have more interesting things to say than consumer travel publications or sites.

Travel trade sites and magazines often have more interesting stuff  than consumer travel publications.

The content on Travel Weekly and, say, Hotelmarketing.com is often more readable, more useful than some of the travel consumer sites or glitzy travel magazines that stretch for hyperbole when describing blue Caribbean waters or some village in Spain.

So when Hotelmarketing ran its list of top stories for 2011, they were interesting because they were gritty choices: Why hotels shouldn’t sell a $200 room for fifty bucks, or Dysfunctional hotel websites.

But when  Ypartners, a key analyst of travel trends, posted  their snapshot of traveling Americans,  I learned ur passion for travel is second only to our passion for our families.

The survey of 2,500 adults looked at the travel habits, preferences and intentions of American leisure travelers and found that we Americans  have a deep commitment to travel.

It was  Ypartners that reported that Americans treasure their leisure and vacation time – citing travel as their number two passion behind family.

It’s also true that incentive programs find travel to be more “incentivizing” than money because, as one CEO said, money goes to pay the  bills. Travel builds memories and thus loyalty to the company handing out the incentive reward.

According to Y’s  Portrait of the American Traveler  our key travel traits are:

• We are smarter consumers. More than three-quarters of U.S. consumers (77 percent) say they have become  smarter shoppers thanks to today’s economic situation

• Among leisure travelers who have used the Internet to obtain travel information or to make a reservation, more than eight in ten say the most desirable features in a travel-service supplier website are the ability to check the lowest fares/rates (84 percent) and the lowest price/rate guarantee (82 percent)

• Experience-based travel involving family and friends rules: the leading types of leisure trips remain visiting friends and relatives (50 percent) and family vacations (42 percent)

• The Caribbean (34 percent), Europe (33 percent) and Mexico (26 percent) remain the top international destinations visited by American travelers during the past two years

• Social media are gaining credibility as a trusted information source. Three out of five leisure travelers (61 percent) visited TripAdvisor prior to booking a hotel reservation, while one in five (18 percent) visited YouTube in the past 12 months.

Surprisingly, perhaps,  two in ten active leisure travelers (18 percent) utilized the services of a traditional travel agent in the past 12 months, and younger travelers are slightly more likely to book through a travel agent than their older counterparts;

The full summary is on Hotelmarketing.com, but one conclusion really stands out: While value is extremely important to the traveler, it’s not the same thing as “low cost” or cheaper.

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