Tag Archives: Travel

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An RVer’s guide to campground etiquette

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Unless you are about to embark on your first RV road trip, you probably already practice the basic, common sense rules of campground etiquette. They simply reflect the good manners that most of us observe in our everyday lives.

There are exceptions, however, and unfortunately many of us have encountered that rare individual whose rude or thoughtless behavior spoils a camping experience for others.

That being said, and with the dawning of a new year that promises plenty of camping adventures, let’s take a minute to review the basics of campground etiquette.

It all begins with the Golden Rule. If we expect our campgrounds to be friendly, well-mannered communities, we should make sure we are friendly and courteous campers.

Virtually every campground we’ve ever visited has had conspicuously posted speed limits, usually in the range of 5-15 miles per hour. So, good manners begin with observing speed limits as you enter the facility. Pay attention to one-way signs as well — lest you are very good at backing your rig.

Every campground has its own set of rules and regulations, usually printed on a handout sheet or posted at the registration desk. Read them carefully, as they serve as a guide to what you can and cannot do at that particular campground.

This may not be included in the rules and regs, but it’s a common-sense courtesy: unless you’ve been assigned a specific space, don’t park right next to someone if there are lots of open spaces to choose from. Campgrounds can get crowded enough as it is, especially on busy weekends, so try to give other folks their space whenever possible.

Remember to avoid walking through someone else’s campsite as well. You wouldn’t walk through a stranger’s yard without asking — so be polite and go around.

Respect should be similarly observed in common areas. Pools and playgrounds can be hot spots for dissension; don’t hog the tables and chairs or playground apparatus. Make sure too that your kid’s frolicking doesn’t spoil somebody else’s swim. This poses a further reminder to parents camping with children: review the rules with them, monitor them closely, and never let the kids roam unattended.

To some extent the same applies to traveling pets. Most of us love to take our dog(s) camping — and they love it too — but irresponsible pet owners are one of the most common causes of campground etiquette complaints.

Keep those canines on a short leash when walking and make sure they are properly restrained at the campsite. Not even the most ardent of dog lovers can put up with incessant barking, so if your pooch is one of those non-stop yappers, we suggest you leave it with a sitter when you go camping.

Finally, it goes without saying that you should be prepared to clean up after your pet. If you forget to bring your own, most campgrounds provide doggie bags to make the cleanup easy and convenient.

Keeping down the noise is another important campground courtesy. You might jam to heavy metal, but chances are your neighbor prefers Tchaikovsky. So, it’s good to remember that your sounds shouldn’t travel too far beyond your own campsite.

Most campgrounds post quiet hours so be sure you know when they are and be doubly sure to keep things quiet during that period. Outside lighting can be an irritant to neighbors as well, so turn off your awning and/or porch lights when you retire for the evening.

Emptying tanks is not a popular task — but dumping those tanks is a nasty fact of life for every RV camper and it should be done courteously if your site features a sewer connection. For example, don’t do it when your neighbors are relaxing with a drink or enjoying a meal. Early mornings or late evenings (when few fellow campers are stirring) seem the most appropriate times for this chore.

Late arrivals and early departures can create a campground disturbance, so try to be as quiet as possible. If you’re pulling in late, it’s a good idea to just find a level spot to park, plug in the power, and leave the rest for the morning. If you’re planning an early getaway, prepare for a quick departure by putting away your camping gear the night before. If you are trailering, hook up your trailer to your truck the night before.

Fires and generators can be campground nuisances unless handled responsibly. Follow campground fire rules and never leave a fire unattended. Be absolutely certain your fire is out before retiring for the evening. If your site is powered, you don’t have to concern yourself with rules concerning the use of a generator.

But most state parks and some federal campgrounds don’t have power outlets, so in those instances you’ll have to rely on your batteries, solar or a generator. Unless the latter is one of the new inverter-style generators it will be noisy enough to irritate you and your companions as well as nearby neighbors. You shouldn’t need to run the generator for very long to maintain your RV’s batteries — and having a solar system and generator is the best of both worlds — minimizing generator usage for a more peaceful campground experience.

Since your campsite is just on loan to you, it’s important to leave it as you found it. Don’t move fire rings or boundary stones and if you relocate the picnic table, return it to its original place when you leave. Never cut branches or pound nails into trees for clotheslines or hammocks. Before departing, take a look around the site for personal items or litter.

As a final thought, take time to make some new friends. We all spend too much time on our personal devices these days, so crank up your communications skills and go for some old fashion personal contact. Time on the road is precious — so relax, have fun and enjoy the company of some newfound friends.

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How to explore the best of Utah’s state parks

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While you are visiting Utah’s national parks, plan some time for Utah’s 43 state parks. These parks are much less crowded and have some amazing views, geology, and history. Below are a few of the parks.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Utah is known for its unusual rock formations. There are arches, bridges, hoodoos, goblins, and sand pipes. The only place in the world where you can find sand pipes is at Kodachrome Basin SP.

There are several theories on their formation that you can read about at the visitor center. Enjoy the trails and the picture-perfect views while you look for some of the 67 sand pipes. Camping is available.

Enjoy the colors of petrified wood.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

While it doesn’t have the amount of petrified wood as the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, this state park is worth a visit. If you just have a short time, look at the 50-foot-long petrified tree near the parking lot and stroll the short Petrified Wood Cove trail for more fossilized wood.

If you have more time, hike the trails to more petrified wood sites, kayak or paddleboard the reservoir, or stay overnight at the campground.

Goblin Valley State Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has the tall hoodoos. Locals call the shorter and fatter version rocks “goblins,” which fill the three square miles of the Valley of the Goblins. This park is a must-see for fans of the movie Galaxy Quest, where it was the setting of the battle with a rock monster.

You can wander the goblin area or take one of the trails within the park. You are free to play among the rock formations but please take care so you don’t damage a formation for future guests. The park has camping and is an International Dark Sky Park.

Dead Horse State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse State Park has outstanding views on the Colorado River. Look for the blue solar evaporation ponds that are used to process potassium chloride. The color really stands out from the red rock.

Besides Dead Horse Point Overlook or the view from the visitor center, there are several trails to additional overlooks. In addition, there are 17 miles of mountain bike trails. The park has camping and is an International Dark Sky Park.

Edge of the Cedars State Park

This park is about history and culture. The artifacts on display in the museum include an extensive Ancestral Puebloan pottery collection along with baskets, arrowheads, fiber artifacts, and other pieces. Personally, I loved the details of the pottery.

Outside, you can climb into a kiva or check out the solar sculpture. The park is relatively small with no camping.

Goosenecks State Park

This park is basically a parking lot (no camping), but the view is everything. Practice your panorama shots before you get here since there is no way a single shot shows the view. The park is an entrenched river meander where it takes six miles of the San Juan River to go 1.5 miles to the west.

The view at Goosenecks.

In another state that didn’t have Utah’s amazing national parks, these state parks would be must-see stops. Don’t miss them in your Utah tour.

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What are your hunting goals for 2020?

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Now that hunting season is (for the most part) in the rearview mirror, this is a good time to think about your hunting goals for the new year. Specifically, application season is rapidly approaching for most Western states. This is also the prime time of year for booking outfitted hunts in the United States and overseas.

As far as hunts out west go, it’s important to understand that getting a good tag in many Western states isn’t as simple as going out and buying a hunting license at a sporting goods store. In contrast to most of the Eastern states, most states out west issue the majority of their deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, mountain goat, and sheep tags through some sort of a random draw.

This method of tag allocation often applies to fully guided as well as self-guided hunts. So, you’ll still probably need to draw the necessary tag even if you’re planning on an outfitted hunt. That said, some states like Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming do sell limited numbers of deer, elk, and/or bear tags over the counter.

Depending on what and where you want to hunt, drawing a tag can be range from pretty easy to virtually impossible. For instance, pronghorn tags in many Wyoming units aren’t hard to come by. On the other hand, it’s a whole lot tougher to draw a pronghorn tag in Arizona or New Mexico.

So, how do you sort through all of this information?

If you want a guided hunt, the outfitter will probably help you with the application. Things are a little tougher for those interested in a self-guided experience or for those who want an outfitted hunt at some point in the future and haven’t selected an outfitter yet.

The good news is that there are a bunch of different companies out there that provide useful information on how to find and draw the right tag for you. I personally use goHunt and really like the service they provide, but they’re far from the only option out there.

If you’re interested in going on one of those hunts in the future, start doing some research now in order to reduce the chances of getting in a bind later. Check out some state fish and game websites (Wyoming’s site is especially useful) to learn about the opportunities available in various states and explore a few tag application and research services to find one you like.

In addition to application season, January, February, and early March are also prime months for booking hunts in the United States as well as overseas. Those months are also the slow season for hunting outfitters all over the world.

For that reason, most of the big outdoor shows take place during those months as well. For instance, the Dallas Safari Club Convention is scheduled for Jan. 9-12 in Dallas and the Safari Club International Annual Convention takes place Feb. 5-8 in Reno.

Don’t think that these events are just for those interested in an African hunting safari, either. While there are always plenty of African outfitters at those shows, outfits from all over the world attend as well and there is no shortage of companies from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and the United States.

With that in mind, there is something for almost everyone at the big conventions. So, regardless of whether you’re interested in a red stag hunt in Argentina, a moose hunt in Alaska, a tahr and chamois hunt in New Zealand, an elk hunt in Colorado, a bear hunt in Canada, an African safari hunt, or something else, you’ll probably find something you like at one of the big outdoor shows.

Good luck and happy hunting in 2020!

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White Sands: America’s newest national park

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Just before Christmas 2019, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico became White Sands National Park. The official upgrade passed through Congress with little fanfare, hidden away in the small print of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.

The designation as America’s 62nd national park is, however, lauded by proponents — road trippers, desert rats and photographers — who love to roam the 275-square-mile complex of sparkling, swirling white sand dunes. They come day, night, and year-round to hike, sled, camp and photograph the world’s largest gypsum dune field. It is, in fact, so large and luminous that it can be seen from space.

Located in the Tularosa Basin of the Chihuahuan Desert, the park’s vast dunes contain an abundance of the chalky white mineral called gypsum. This is what gives the landscape its glistening appearance and, of course, led to the naming of the preserve.

Dunes began forming here about 10,000 years ago and, over the centuries, blowing winds have created a wave-like network of dreamy dunes. Visitors can drive along the eight-mile Dunes Drive to see the dunes up close — or even closer aboard a sled — available for rent at the Visitor Center.

For those who want to stay a while, there’s a picnic area, hiking, biking, horseback riding and backcountry camping. And, when the time is right, there’s an opportunity to join a full moon hike with one of the park rangers.

In addition to the striking dunes, White Sands is home to fossilized footprints that date back to the Ice Age, chronicling more than ten centuries of human existence in the sprawling 6,500-square-mile Tularosa Basin. The park is home as well to more than 800 species of plants and animals, including foxes, coyotes, bobcats, badgers and a variety of rodents.

Visitors might also see a strikingly exotic horned creature — the African oryx — introduced from the Kalahari Desert to White Sands in the late 1960s to provide a large game species for hunters (a program since discontinued). Native plant life includes cacti and desert succulents, grass and wildflowers.

President Herbert Hoover established White Sands National Monument on Jan. 18, 1933. Its redesignation as a national park recognizes more than just the area’s scenic and natural value. According to the National Park Service, national parks are chosen for their inspirational, educational and recreational values, whereas national monuments are places of historic, prehistoric or scientific interest.

White Sands National Park is located near the town of Alamogordo, 225 miles south of Albuquerque.

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The big bump: The airlines likely to oversell and what passengers should know

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Bumps happen. In this case, we’re addressing the airline kind that often leave passengers scratching their heads over voluntary rebooking — which may bring points, money or free flights in exchange for surrendering a seat. But we are also looking at involuntary bumps — such as the forced removal of a passenger in 2017 from a United Airlines Express flight out of Chicago.

Time has not quite erased the memory of Dr. David Dao being pulled from his assigned spot on the plane and dragged through the aisle by police as he screamed in protestation. In such cases, if your seat number comes up, clearly you have drawn the short straw in a random game of musical airplane chairs.

These cases are more common than one would think — and are on the uptick. Some 13,000 passengers were bumped in the first six months of this year; that’s more than all of 2018, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And while getting bumped from a flight is always a risk for flyers, some airlines are better at managing their passenger loads than others.

In a recent study, Upgraded Points explored the airlines most likely to bump passengers from flights: a process the industry calls involuntary denied boarding (IDB), or airline bumps. Using solid industry data from 2018, and in light of the effects of the Boeing 737 MAX Aircraft grounding controversy, the final results were a bit surprising.

The study looked at current data released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which keeps detailed airline-related statistics on a variety of topics for each full year. It examined the year-over-year changes in both voluntary and involuntary denied boardings (IDBs) from the top U.S. airlines to see which have the highest number of bumped passengers.

These numbers represent the number of IDBs per 100,000 passengers, per airline. Some results from the study are included below.

Airlines Most Likely to Bump Passengers

Just looking at the raw number of passengers bumped is not always the most accurate way to calculate which airline is more likely to bump its passengers. For instance, although American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have the highest number of actual bumped passengers, their volume of enplaned passengers is rather high altogether. This then places passengers’ overall changes of being bumped by American and Southwest as statistically low.

Only 1.95 American Airlines passengers were bumped for every 100,000 who traveled in 2018. Southwest bumped only 1.5 passengers during the same time period. In contrast, Spirit Airlines had the highest number of IDBs based on raw data, but due to their higher volume of passengers, their ratio of bumped passengers is still better than other carriers, such as Frontier Airlines.

The highest IDBs based on passengers bumped and overall volume of passengers is Frontier Airlines, by a significant margin. Based on the data, Frontier bumped 6.28 passengers per 100,000.

Some of the raw data analyzed for the top four worst airlines for bumping passengers is below. Delta Airlines, however, holds the sweet spot with only 22 bumps in 2018. Out of over 138 million passengers, only .02 per 100,000 Delta passengers were involuntarily bumped.

Those airlines that are the least likely to inconvenience passengers with IDBs are also explored in the study.

Infographic courtesy Upgraded Points

Boeing 737 Max Grounding Effects

Generally speaking, though getting bumped is becoming less common for airlines. Rates peaked in 2016 and early 2017, though there was a significant drop in late 2017. With the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircrafts in March2019, however, there was a great influx of overbooking that resulted in an almost twofold rate of bumps in the first half of 2019.

PSA Airlines and Mesa Airlines were the U.S. airlines hardest hit by the grounding of Boeing 737 Max Aircrafts. In both cases, their Q1-2 bump rates shot up by over 1,000 percent and resulted in over 10 people bumped per 100,000 passengers.

Close behind were Allegiant Air and American Airlines, both of which experienced a bump rate increase of over 50%.

However, not every airline was negatively impacted. United, Frontier, Alaska, and Spirit Airlines all experienced a drop in involuntary denied boardings since Boeing 737 Max aircrafts were grounded.

Infographic courtesy Upgraded Points

These airlines appeared to either not be affected by the grounding of those aircrafts or they were able to quickly compensate for the additional passengers that booked tickets on their airlines.

The U.S. DOT allows for the overselling of airline seats in the U.S. to accommodate for the “no-show” algorithm that affects the seat yield. This is the root cause of most bump events. But travelers do have some wiggle room in the transaction.

Voluntary Bumping Policies

If an airline offers a reduced rate ticket, free ticket, or voucher to passengers in exchange for volunteering to fly on a different flight, the airline must tell passengers about any and all restrictions that may apply before passengers make their decision. They should know how long that ticket or voucher will last, whether it can be used during high-traffic holidays and whether it can be used for an international flight.

If the bump comes with a promise of a seat on the next flight, passengers should ask about which the airline and whether that seat is confirmed or standby.

If the next plane is some hours away, passengers should find out whether the airline is willing to provide for otherwise out-of-pocket expenses such as meals, transfers, hotel rooms and phone cards.

Involuntary Bumps or Denied Boarding Incidents

If there are more ticketed passengers than seats to go around, and not enough flexible flyers, passengers may be denied boarding due to a range of contributing criteria: check-in time, fare paid by the passenger, even a passenger’s frequent flyer status.

And while the DOT requires airlines to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing reasons and passenger rights, there are many situations in which these unlucky passengers are not entitled to compensation.

These include:

Aircraft Change: When a smaller plane is substituted for the larger one or using a different and smaller aircraft due to operational or safety reasons.

Weight and Balance: Weight or balance restrictions may be a consideration for operational or safety reasons with planes containing 60 or fewer seats.

Downgrading: When a passenger is downgraded from a higher class of seating to a lower class, the only compensation the airline is obligated to supply is a refund for the difference in price.

Charter Flights: Flights contracted for a specific trip that is not included in policies and regulations that guide scheduled airlines.

Small Aircraft: Compensation is not required for scheduled flights on planes holding fewer than 30 passengers.

Departing a Foreign Location: International flights to the United States will not be subject to the same rules and regulations that govern U.S. network flights. However, some airlines on these routes may provide compensation voluntarily. As a case and point, the European Commission has its own policies surrounding flights departing from a European Union member state.

But passengers may be taken off a plane for many reasons, often of their own making, and in these incidents, the airline does not owe the passenger compensation or service. These happenings are common — often fodder for YouTube and social media moments — and include flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs, attempting to interfere with duties of the flight crew, engaging in unruly behavior affecting other passengers or flight operations, and having an offensive odor not due to a disability or illness.

Voluntary Bumps and Compensation

In situations when bumped passengers opt to be bumped, they are eligible compensation under these conditions:

  • They have a confirmed reservation,
  • They checked-in to the flight on time,
  • They have arrived at the departure gate on time,
  • The airline cannot get them to their destination within an hour of the flight’s original arrival time.

Worth the Wait?

Passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily due to oversells are usually entitled to compensation that is based on the price of their ticket, the length of time that they are delayed, and whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the United States.

According to the DOT, this means most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, up to $675. Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights will receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they are surrendering, up to $1,350.

Payments are usually offered at the airport on the spot or within 24 hours of the bumping incident.

Sky’s the Limit

Here’s the good news: In incidents where compensation is warranted, it is up to the passenger to his or her own negotiator. There is no limit on how much a passenger can collect from the airline. Although airlines are required to give a certain amount of money by law, the companies are free to give larger amounts, as needed, to get the job done.

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Bahrain’s new airport ambitions outshine current expansion

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Look at a satellite view of the tiny Kingdom of Bahrain and, zooming closer, you’ll spot a number of airports and airfields in a relatively small land mass. Bahrain International Airport, the main passenger gateway in the northeastern corner of the island, serves this nation of 1.5 million people and its important oil industries.

It is currently undergoing a $1.1 billion expansion project, but incredibly, the chairman of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce has just announced this to be a temporary measure ahead of a brand-new airport being built.

While relatively obscure compared to the huge, fruitful Middle East hubs at Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Bahrain was in fact one of the first to benefit from the growth of its home airline. Gulf Air developed a network stretching across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, which led travelers, workers and transit passengers to the country.

With the emergence of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, it has largely been pushed to the background. However, with new branding, a new ultra-modern fleet of aircraft, and renewed enthusiasm, the spotlight is once again starting to shine on the airline and its Bahrain International base.

With that in mind, the current expansion project features the building of a brand-new passenger terminal that will vastly increase the space available for passengers and aircraft. It will add over 100 check-in counters, security control booths and screening points, and the capacity for 14 million passengers per year.

The present terminal, which is being demolished as the new one is completed, has a capacity for much fewer than the 9 million passengers already being handled by the airport, and with growth on the cards for Gulf Air, capacity is needed sooner rather than later.

The new 207,000-square-meter terminal will open before March 2020 (it has slipped by around a year so far). However, there is anticipation that the airport will see some 27 million passengers per year by 2040, which has led Sameer Nass, chairman of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry to downplay the new terminal as “temporary” and “transitional.” The solution, he claims, is in plans “to build a whole new airport and new runways, which will be about 10 years down the road.”

Is it all wishful thinking? This region is dominated by the big three airports, as well as Kuwait, Dammam, Sharjah and the growing Dubai World Central. A new airport with greater capacity and passenger appeal (not to mention cargo capacity) would of course give Bahrain the ability to expand and attract new carriers and routes, but it does not seem to be justified by demand at this stage.

What’s more, Gulf Air’s transit network is tiny compared to the other big Middle East carriers, and the emergence of Istanbul as a major player relatively close to the region is already posing a big threat.

Developing and updating Bahrain International, which is the oldest and most outdated of the Middle East hubs, is a wise move if it goes hand in hand with growing industry, tourism and the transit market. Arguably it should also be bigger if this is successful. But the industry will be watching as plans for the brand-new airport emerge over coming years.

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Survey: What would America do to avoid stressful Thanksgiving travel?

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Since driving during the holidays can be stressful, we polled Americans on what they would do to get out of driving for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, many of us would go to great lengths to avoid the crush of traffic and stress that often come with Turkey Day travels.

Traveling on Turkey Day?

Ideally, Thanksgiving is a time to kick back and relax. A time to reflect on what you’re grateful for in life. Like that drool-worthy green bean casserole your aunt makes. You probably get a day or two off work. The weather is cooling down, and you’re finally enjoying that magical time of year fondly referred to as the holiday season. Cue the roaring fire and warm apple cider.

This is the destination. But sometimes the road to get there can be a bit stressful. Since everyone is traveling at the same time, roads can become extra-congested around the holidays. What if you could just skip the headache-inducing Thanksgiving drive altogether?

To answer that question, we polled Americans on how stressful they find Thanksgiving travel — and what they would do to avoid it altogether.

Over half of Americans are stressed by Thanksgiving travel

Last year, 54 million people traveled more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving. And according to the National Safety Council, there were an estimated 433 traffic fatalities. With such dicey driving conditions, it’s no wonder that — when given a choice between “not stressful,” “slightly stressful,” “stressful,” or “very stressful” — 52% of respondents think Thanksgiving travel is at least “slightly stressful.”

Holiday travel stress affects everyone, but according to our survey, these effects appear to increase slightly with age. Forty-nine percent of respondents ages 18-34 reported feeling stressed, and that number rose to 55% with people ages 55 and up.

Avoiding the long drive

We then asked people what they would do to avoid a long drive on Thanksgiving. When given the choice, only about a quarter of respondents said they would make the drive if given the choice. The rest would prefer to cook the full meal themselves (with no help!), pay for a flight, or give up their favorite Thanksgiving dish. (Gasp.) And surprisingly, 18% said that they’d rather skip Thanksgiving festivities altogether.

Additionally, we presented respondents with a slew of rather unpleasant activities such as eating a large bug, giving a speech, sitting by a crying baby on a flight, saying everything you think out loud, and — the ultimate horror — exclusively using dial-up internet. Forty-four percent chose one of these drastic alternatives but waiting in line at the DMV was the most popular.

This year, make your Thanksgiving plans surprisingly painless

We get it, Thanksgiving can be stressful — but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re driving this holiday, here are some safety tips to make your trip surprisingly painless.

  • Always leave yourself with more time than you think you’ll need. This will allow for bad weather and traffic. Plus, having the extra cushion in your schedule will leave you less stressed. If possible, avoid driving on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Traffic is at its heaviest during this time. As a general rule of thumb, traffic is lightest early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Make sure everything in your car is secure. Keep any dishes you’re bringing (hot or cold) in an insulated container for food safety. They should also have tight-fitting lids to avoid spills. Properly secure pets with a harness or crate, and make sure the kids are buckled up and entertained.
  • If you’ll be away for a few days, make sure not to announce travel plans on any public social media platforms. According to a cybersecurity study, 60% of millennials do it — but it’s a flashing sign for burglars that no one will be home.

If you’ve decided to host Thanksgiving this year, congratulations! You get to avoid holiday traffic. However, hosting can have some challenges of its own. Here’s how to make the day memorable for all the right reasons:

  • Don’t walk away from a dish while it’s cooking. If a fire starts on the stovetop, turn all burners off and cover it with a pan or lid. You should also have a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it. If a fire starts in the oven, turn it off, keep it closed, get out of the house safely, and call 911.
  • Check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re functioning properly. The stove can be a major source of carbon monoxide, so make sure to use your kitchen vents and open windows periodically.
  • Any guests that will be drinking should have a plan to get home safely. Make sure there are designated drivers assigned or offer to arrange an Uber to pick them up. If you have the accommodations, you may even consider offering to host them overnight.


This study consisted of three survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The survey ran during September 2019.

This article originally appeared on Esurance.

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Promoting student success at the STR Student Market Study Competition

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I was in New York City (NYC) over Veterans Day weekend for HX: The Hotel Experience 2019, one of the most important trade shows in the lodging industry. Similar to last year’s trade show, the HX 2019 also entailed four components: HX: The Marketplace; HX: The Conference; Boutique Design New York; and the STR (Smith Travel Research) Student Market Study Competition.

STR is the leading data analytics provider for the lodging industry. Since its debut in 2015, the STR Student Market Study Competition (the STR Competition hereafter) has received significant attention from hospitality programs around the world.

This year, over 20 students from the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona traveled to NYC for HX 2019. Moreover, six of them also participated in the STR Competition for the first time.

In the end, the Cal Poly Pomona team won 2nd Prize among the 25 competing colleges and universities. The other winning teams were Michigan State (1st Prize) and Virginia Tech (3rd Prize).

I was fortunate to work with the Cal Poly Pomona team as one of their faculty advisors. I was able to witness their journey from first-time participants to second-place team.

The following is a report about the experience of the team. I am hoping this report will offer additional insights for the students who also want to participant in the STR Competition, as well as the advisors who will be coaching the students.

The Cal Poly Pomona team

The six members in the Cal Poly Pomona team include (in alphabetical order of last name): Emily Fedorchek, Heather Kingsbury, Devon Lilley, Sean Mayor, Marissa Robledo, and Natalie Thé. Their initials will be used when quoting their comments.

The learning experience of the STR Competition

Students spent two semesters preparing for the STR Competition. Students studied and gained both the Certification in Hotel Industry Analytics (CHIA) and the Certification in Advanced Hospitality and Tourism Analytics (CAHTA) in the spring semester. Then, in the fall semester, they began analyzing the STR data for the competition in NYC. The continuous practice was critical in their learning experience.

“As we prepared for the competition, we kept in mind that success is never final. We practiced consistently, making sure that every piece of our presentation was polished and picture-perfect.” (S.M.)

“(In the spring semester), we even got to take a trip to Pasadena to visit a few hotels and learn about how they use STR reports in their daily operations. The second semester in the fall was completely different. We went into full competition preparation.” (D.L.)

“Then we were practicing the presentation over and over again, getting advice from faculty and industry professionals, taking their notes down, and doing it again. … The actual day of the competition was nerve-racking, but looking out into the room of familiar faces made me confident that we would do well.” (D.L.)

Skills acquired from the process

Students suggested the process helped them acquired skills in data analytics, story-telling, data visualization, and teamwork. For example:

“I learned how to use numbers and data with a high degree of complexity to present a story that is engaging and easily understood.” (S.M.)

“I was not really confident in my ability to analyze data. Yet, this experience made me realize how a massive amount of data can be used to explain (a) how things happen in the real world and (b) how different hospitality and tourism operations affect one another. I also have improved my public speaking skills, as well as my skills in PowerPoint. It definitely helped us learn how to work in a large team with different levels of skill and experience.” (D.L.)

“I learned how to collaborate with my team members successfully and accept constructive feedback.” (M.R.)

Linking the STR Competition with students’ college experiences

The learning process during the STR Competition added invaluable experience to their student life in college. For instance,

“Participating in the competition enriched my college experience by challenging me to step outside of my comfort zone. I also learned a different aspect of the industry that has not been offered yet in the classroom.” (M.R.)

“It enriched my college experience by creating lasting relationships with the faculty throughout the college. I will very likely work with them for the rest of my collegiate years, and hopefully, even my adult life. I also developed new friendships, and the competition allowed me to be part of Cal Poly Pomona’s history.” (D.L.)

Linking the STR Competition with students’ career goals

Not all hospitality students see themselves working in data analytics after they graduate with a hospitality degree. Still, the preparation of the STR Competition can be particularly helpful for those who are interested in a career beyond room or restaurant operations.

“Through preparing for the competition, I was able to gain and develop skills that would be useful for a future career regarding numbers in the hospitality industry. I have always found myself very interested and enjoying the classes at The Collins College that involved numbers, such as Hospitality Finance and Accounting. However, when expressing this interest to recruiters, many of them told me that positions involving numbers required specific degrees, which hospitality management was not one. This competition gave me the opportunity to work with real data and apply analytical skills that is specific to the hospitality industry. Further, it opened my eyes to future career paths within the industry I did not know existed.” (N.T.)

“As someone looking to get into the event industry, this competition has given me a greater perspective on how event venues, especially convention centers, CVBs, and hotels all play into the success and the reputation of a market in terms of group travel.” (DL)

“I can confidently say that the competition will help me achieve my career goal because anything is possible with dedication and passion.” (M.R.)

The challenges and the remedies

This year’s competition was especially challenging for the Cal Poly Pomona team because it was the first time that the school ever organized a team to compete. As a result, students needed extra help from their advisors.

“The challenge of being the first group within our school to compete meant we had to pave our own way to the finals without having previous teams or PowerPoints to learn from. We overcame this challenge by starting from square one, and then built our way up through constant practices, feedback, and revisions.” (S.M.)

“The competition has only been going on for about five years, and it was our first year competing. So, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. We didn’t have any reference regarding how to gauge the processes. It was also difficult to tell if we were on track to where we needed to be in order to be successful.” (D.L.)

“Learning how to analyze data was the most challenging lesson of the competition. Fortunately, our mentors helped me overcome this challenge by taking the time out of their busy schedules to sit down with me and help me think outside the box.” (M.R.)

“Our team watched last year’s videos of the winning teams and watched not just what information they were presenting, but how How were they standing? How were they speaking? Watching them present definitely helped us think about our presentation style. Nevertheless, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten where we are without our amazing faculty support. They took extra time out of their day to make sure we really understood our sections, and each of our slides was the best they could be.” (D.L.)

Factors contributing to the success of the team

As their faculty advisor, I believe their success was the result of a team effort from the students, the faculty/staff, alumni, and even the Board of Advisors of the College. Everyone shared the same goal and kept an open mind for feedback and suggestions. Everyone made a strong commitment to the team. Students stated:

“The factors that contributed to the success of the team were the individual members’ eagerness to learn and being receptive to feedback. Everyone on the team had never been exposed to a hotel market study prior to joining the team, but their excitement to learn something new and take on challenges contributed immensely to the team successfully creating a hotel market study. Additionally, each member being receptive to feedback allowed the team to constantly improve the presentation and performance to create a presentation we were very proud of. Another factor that contributed to the success of the team was the incredible support we had from our advisors. Their expertise and guidance gave us direction and clarity on how to improve our analysis and presentation.” (N.T.)

“Leveraging our strengths contributes to the success of the team because those strengths will make up for some of the imperfections we may carry individually.” (S.M.)

“Each member of the team has not just to be willing to put in the work, but also have the desire to improve and advance the team overall. We had to make lots of changes and improvements throughout the process. … I didn’t want to be successful alone, I wanted to succeed with my team and my school. It entailed hard work, and as a part of the team, you need to be there to help and support each other. Even the judges asked about how we were selected, and how we worked together, so the data is definitely key, but the people presenting it together makes the difference.” (D.L.)

Advice and suggestions for participants in the future

In the end, I asked the team what suggestions they would make to the students who want to participate in a future STR Competition. They said:

“I would tell any student that has the slightest desire to do this competition to go for it! Many students have only had operations experience in the hospitality industry, which may cause them to be hesitant to participate as they have not been exposed to anything like this before. However, this experience is very unique and is very beneficial to anyone anticipating to have a career in the hospitality industry. You will learn immensely and develop a new way of thinking, which only makes you an even more well-rounded, stronger leader of the industry. Everyone on the team works together to acquire new skills, and it is very rewarding to see how far you have come when you are on stage, presenting in front of the judges.” (N.T.)

“Don’t take the feedback personally. Having an open mind and positive outlook will only benefit your personal growth and the experience of the team. Try to make efforts to get to know one another to solidify the unity much earlier in the process. Continue to support one another through the good and the bad. You’re all in the competition together. Don’t make it a competition among each other.” (M.R.)

“Being willing to listen to each other.” (H.K.)

“It’s not about the individual section you’re doing; the entire presentation needs to flow. To really understand the big story you want to tell, you must have a very good idea of each team member’s piece of the puzzle and how they connect overall.” (D.L.)

“I recommend them to start working together as a team early on so that they can strategize a plan to utilize everyone’s strengths during the presentation.” (S.M.)


The result truly came from a team effort. The other advisors who also worked diligently with the team are Dr. Margie Ferree Jones, Mr. Hank Jones, and Ms. Carolina Sanchez. Additionally, Mr. Bruce Baltin, Mr. Troy L. Jones, Ms. Tiffany Jassel, Ms. Chia-Ju (Kate) Ko, Mr. Aarick (Eric) Sepulveda, and other faculty/staff members at the Collins College provided valuable feedback to the students’ work and made critical contributions to their success.

Have you or your school participated in the STR Competition before? How was your experience? What suggestions will you make to future participants?

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Travel2020: The rise of green cruising

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Carnival Corporation, which holds the tag as the world’s largest leisure travel company, is partnering with leaders from the maritime and engineering industries to pilot the world’s first fuel cell system designed to power large passenger vessels.

As early as 2021, Germany-based AIDA Cruises, which is owned by Carnival, will trial this innovative fuel technology on AIDAnova, becoming the cruise industry’s first brand to trial fuel cells on a large cruise ship.

The research project, named “Pa-X-ell2,” is designed to develop fuel cells that are powered by hydrogen derived from methanol, with the potential to supply power to cruise ships at even lower emissions levels than liquefied natural gas (LNG), the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuel. Designed by Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, the fuel cells are expected to have a longer lifecycle than those currently being developed for automobiles, with early trials on land showing a lifespan of over 35,000 operating hours.

Developed as a hybrid energy system for use in cruise ships, the fuel cells will be designed to enable benefits beyond significantly lower emissions, including operating with lower noise and vibration. In the future, there is the potential for the required methanol to be produced from renewable energy sources.

Hydrogen fuel cells are also part of the long-term planning of both Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Viking Ocean Cruises as a way to eliminate the emissions from burning hydrocarbon fuels. However, a drawback of fuel cell technology can be seen in the current process of creating hydrogen from oil or gas, which can create greenhouse gases and negate the overall purpose of the technology. However, using the abundant hydro-electric power from Norway and other locations will allow for fuel cell production with minimal emissions.

Funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, the Pa-X-ell2 research project will include AIDA Cruises, represented by Carnival Corporation’s Hamburg-based Carnival Maritime GmbH; Freudenberg Sealing Technologies; the Meyer Werft shipyard; and other partners.

“With this first-time use of fuel cells onboard an oceangoing cruise ship, we will reach another important milestone on our journey to emission-neutral cruising,” said Felix Eichhorn, president of AIDA Cruises. “Our goal is continue to show concrete solutions for achieving our climate targets.”

As part of Carnival Corporation’s innovative “green cruising” strategy, the fuel cell pilot is the most recent in an ongoing series of environmental initiatives and major technological advances for the company’s AIDA Cruises brand.

Recently, the brand signed an agreement to install a first-of-its-kind lithium-ion battery power system on its AIDAperla ship in 2020, which will be the world’s largest battery storage system ever on a passenger ship, capable of generating a total output of 10-megawatt hours to help electrify the ship’s propulsion and operation for periods of time.

In December 2018, AIDA Cruises introduced the world’s first cruise ship capable of being powered in port and at sea by liquefied natural gas (LNG), a clean burning fossil fuel. The introduction of LNG to power cruise ships is a major achievement in green cruising that supports the company’s environmental goals with the virtual total elimination of sulfur dioxide emissions (zero emissions) and particulate matter (95 percent to 100 percent reduction). The use of LNG will also substantially reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide.

In total, Carnival Corporation has an additional 10 next-generation LNG cruise ships on order, including Costa Smeralda, which will be the second of the corporation’s ships to be powered by LNG when it joins the Costa Cruises fleet this fall.

The company is also pioneering the use of Advanced Air Quality Systems, often referred to as exhaust gas cleaning systemsor “scrubbers.” As of July 2019, Advanced Air Quality Systems have been installed on 77 of the more than 100 ships in the Carnival Corporation fleet. The systems remove almost all of sulfur oxide emissions, 75% of all particulate matter and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

AIDA is also exploring the use of CO2-free production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from renewable sources through its “Power to Gas” project or the use of fuel cells in cruise shipping. By the end of 2023, 94% of all AIDA guests will travel on ships that can be fully powered by low-emission LNG or shore power where possible.

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A comprehensive checklist for buying an RV

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Buying an RV is overwhelming to everyone. As you look over an RV, your eyes are drawn to bright colors, pretty wallpaper, and the shine of a freshly washed and waxed exterior. None of those items are important when you live in an RV. This is your money and you don’t want to regret your choice in an RV.

Come prepared to see either a new or used RV with a list. Don’t be embarrassed to make a full check and ask questions. Remember, a new RV may come with a warranty but that means time in the shop. Plus, a poor layout can’t be fixed by any warranty.

Note: I am not including the truck components in motorized RV, mechanical inspections, or questions about warranties. These are separate topics.

1. Layout

Picture your time in an RV. Can someone get up early while the other wants to sleep? Do you have to crawl over your partner? Are there curtains to give privacy? Can someone watch TV while someone else reads? Picture getting ready in the bathroom and taking a shower. Is there space for your hobbies?

Consider travel time and parking lot boondocking when you can’t move your slides out. Can you access the bathroom? Can you still get to the refrigerator and beds?

Is there enough indoor storage for your clothes and other items?

Is it easy to get in and out the RV? Does the outside layout make sense for how you camp (do you need an outdoor TV, etc.)?

2. Kitchen

Prep area: Is there separate space with a cutting board? Can you add something to make it more useable?

Really look at the stove, oven, and microwave. Personally, I like a combination oven that microwaves, bakes, and broils.

Storage: Where can you put your dishes, silverware, utensils, and pots and pans?

Food storage: Picture the food you use. Where can you put cereal, rice, and other boxed items? Bread? Where do canned goods fit? Is there space for spices?

3. Bed, couches and chairs

Try them out! Manufacturers make them look good but that doesn’t mean they are comfortable. This means opening out the bed if the couch converts to a bed.

Convert the table into the bed and try it. Lay in the bed over the cab. How tall of a person can sleep in these beds? Do you need to add a cushion to be able to sleep on it? In particular, make sure the main bed is comfortable or be ready to replace the mattress with something better.

Look at the couch and chair material: Will it last over time? Can it be cleaned? How difficult is it to reupholster if it something happens? Especially watch for fake leathers that peel quickly.

Convenience: Can you watch TV without twisting your neck? Can you get to a seat easily? Do they turn so they can be used multiple ways? Is there a place to put your drink? Is there a table or an easy way to use a computer? Is there a plug nearby?

Turns out the table didn’t drop into place correctly and the cushions were uncomfortable. The outlet for computers was inconveniently placed under the table. When boondocking, the TV had to be plugged into another outlet that was connected to an inverter.

4. Windows

Open and close a few windows. Do they seal well? Are the screens in good condition?

Check out the blinds. How much do they block light and stop heat loss? Do they look sturdy?

Is there emergency egress near the bedroom? At least one window should open in case a fire blocks the main door.

5. Surfaces

Floors: Is it flat or is there any buckling or bumps in the floor? What material is it? Carpet is warm but much more difficult to keep clean in an RV.

Ceiling: Look for signs of leaks and bubbles, including inside of cabinets.

Walls: Again, looks for signs of leaks. Check the cabinet materials. Many are made of particle board with fake wood paper instead of a veneer. This is done to reduce weight (and cost).

6. Electrical and electronics

Try the TV. How good are the speakers? Can you hear the TV if it were to rain?

Ask about how the TV, DVD, and antennae work. Is there an amplifier for the signal? Where is it located? Make sure you understand the steps to search for TV stations. How do you switch inputs for the DVD player? Are the plugs for these systems connected to the inverter so you can watch TV off-the-grid? Do you need to raise the antennae from the roof? If there is a satellite system, ask to try it out.

Yes, we have awning over our slides and good vent covers. However, the satellite system never worked.

Where are the speakers and the controls? Do they make sense? Can you play the radio outside without going inside the RV?

Switch lights on and off. This is to test if they work but also if lighting is where you want it and if the switches are convenient.

Are there batteries so you can boondock? How many? In reality, you need at least two batteries to boondock easily.

Is the fuse panel easily accessible? Can you reach it if the slides are in?

Run the generator. These can be hard to start if not run periodically.

7. Outside

Really look at the tires. Is there a spare (many new RVs don’t have them)? Is there extensive wear or any cracks in the tires? Any uneven wear? How do you check air pressure on the inside tires?

Climb on the roof. How difficult is it to make the climb? Are there good vent covers that won’t leak? Which areas have roof fans? For instance, it is nice to have a fan in the bedroom when the A/C isn’t running.

Picture the things you need to store (camp chairs, tables, grills, cleaning materials, tools, hoses and connections, sewer pipes, extension cords, etc.) Is there convenient room for them? Is there any sign of leakage in these compartments?

Room for a ladder and bicycles on back and the awning is powered. However, an outdoor compartment leaked and damaged cabinets.

What do you want to carry? Bicycles, a car, kayaks, or scooters? Many people also bring a step ladder so they can clean the RV. Is there space for everything?

Move the slides in and out. Do they stick? Do the slide seals look in good condition? Are the slide controls handy? Are there awnings above the slides to prevent water pooling on the top? Ask how to close the slides if there is no power in the RV.

Open the awning. How difficult is it to open it? Does the awning material look clean and without bubbles? Can you easily slope the awning to the side to drain water in the rain? Are the locks working well to make sure it won’t come off when driving the RV?

Check if all the lights work outside the RV (brake, turn signals, etc.).

No RV is perfect but if you do a good inspection, you will know what you are getting before you make your purchase. What did I forget? What checks or special thing do you want when you buy an RV? What mistakes have you made when buying?

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