Posts Tagged ‘travel’


5 Tips to Spruce Up Your Local Getaway

If you love travel then you likely get excited about upcoming trips, whether they’re two weeks abroad or a long weekend at the beach. But not everyone feels the same way when they’re forced to take shorter breaks or settle for a local locale (otherwise known as the dreaded “staycation”), which many people are doing these days as much for economic reasons as because of time constraints.


Whether traveling near or far, enjoy where you are. Photo: laudu

But fear not! Spending time somewhere within driving distance can be just as enjoyable as vacationing thousands of miles away—and you don’t have to worry about airport hassles to boot.

1. Pick a nearby place you’ve never been to but always wanted to visit. Often we overlook what’s practically in our backyard because we figure it will always be there or it’s too close to home to count as a vacation. Make it special by staying at a top hotel or resort, add spa time, and definitely book at least one romantic dinner during your stay.

2. If you’re returning to a destination, create a theme for your travels. On a recent trip to Philadelphia—a place my better half and I have visited many times—we decided to make it our mission to find the best Philly cheese steak in the city. (I’m writing this up for another publication so you’ll have to wait for the results.) We interviewed locals for their picks, and it was fun to compare notes and explore new neighborhoods we never would have otherwise. You can do this for food, museums, sporting events, the arts, architecture, just about anything.

3. Add a volunteer activity. Voluntourism is a hot travel trend that adds a memorable element to your trip, whether you’re helping with sea-turtle conservation, planting trees or working the line at a soup kitchen. Check with local resources, such as churches, environmental organizations and animal shelters for needs. Other resources: Habitat for Humanity and

4. Use technology. For online research, start with tourism bureau Web sites, which often have the latest news on attractions, events and hotel deals. Other sites and blogs that can help make planning easier include the new, making search more targeted;, navigating major U.S. transportation systems; and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this blog’s parent, TravelMuse, which has POIs, articles, hotels and Web search to aid in research, and offers social networks for planning and itinerary building. Of course smart phones are all the rage for info at your fingertips, and GPS devices come in handy on road trips.

5. Stop calling it a staycation! If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I say the same applies to travel. Embrace your break and make it a vacation to remember.

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Who says you have to be a geek to appreciate museum events? At the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Thursday nights from 6 to 10 p.m. (through Oct. 29, 2009) are now dedicated to NightLife, with music, food, cocktails and science presentations for adults 21 years and older.

For only $10 ($8 for members), you can shake your groove thang to hot DJ-supplied tunes or learn something scientific with your drink in hand. Each week, a different part of the Academy hosts the party, but you can still walk through the exhibits to your heart’s content (although some, like the Rainforest and Penguin exhibits, close early).

NightLife is the perfect event for those of us who love seeing kids excited about science, and who also prefer to get in close to see that cool-looking stingray, thankyouverymuch.

So, on your next San Francisco vacation, go to the Academy of Sciences at night—and you can check “spectacular new science museum” and “cool San Francisco nightlife” off your itinerary at once! For more information, visit

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TravelMuse is excited to take part in the EyeforTravel, Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2009 conference to be held in San Francisco, March 10 to 11 at the Hotel Nikko.

We’ll be making a short presentation and participating on a panel focusing on Social Media Marketing: Why a Holistic Approach Pays Dividends, alongside Jeff Hanson (Marriott International), Jeremy Jameson (Southwest Airlines) and Juston Parker (Parker Hospitality Group).

Last year we attended the conference and came away armed with lots of ideas, so we’re looking forward to this year. The conference is aimed at travel marketers who want to learn more about social media and how to generate leads, drive traffic, boost conversions and ultimately grow sales.

•    Learn how to measure and monetize your social media campaigns

•    Discover how to profit from mega-sites like YouTube, Facebook and Bebo

•    Create a social media strategy that leverages your marketing spend

•    Align your search strategy with your social media campaigns

•    Find out how the semantic Web will impact your business

•    Reach out to specific audiences on niche social media sites

•    Target the business traveler through social networks

•    Appeal to the next generation by utilizing online networks and mobile technology

There’s a wide range of leading industry experts from new and established companies presenting, including OTAs (Orbitz and Priceline), social networks (LinkedIn and Bebo), hotels (InterContinental Hotels and Joie de Vivre) and more (Disney, Lonely Planet, Mobissimo, UpTake etc.).

To find out more and register, go to:

To receive a 20 percent discount on your conference pass, send an e-mail to Helen Raff ( and tell her that TravelMuse referred you!

Hope to see you there!

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Favorite Small New Orleans Eateries

While I’m a major fan of some of the swanky New Orleans restaurants, like Lüke, Bayona and Commander’s Palace, most often I eat at the small neighborhood joints. Some of my favorites include:

Port of Call. This is the place to go if you have a hankering for hamburgers. Award-winning, half-pound burgers are served along with fat, baked potatoes. Steak and pizza are also available. Wash it all down with a tropical cocktail, like the Neptune’s monsoon or the windjammer. 838 Esplanade Ave., tel. 504-523-0120.

Coop’s Place. One quick glance into this spot on Decatur Street, and you might just pass it by, thinking it’s merely a small watering hole. Venture in, however, and take a gander at the menu on the wall. Coop’s serves up delicious jambalaya, gumbo, pasta dishes and more. To top it off, the chef uses house-smoked tasso (a seasoned, smoked pork) in a few dishes (like the crawfish and tasso pasta), so start with those for sure. 1109 Decatur St., tel. 504-525-9053.

Domilise’s Po’boys. Hit this Uptown bar before the lunch rush to get a seat at the counter. And if you find yourself in line—wait. It’s worth it. Some folks prefer the shrimp po’boy, others dream of the fried oyster, hot smoked sausage or roast beef po’boy—they’re all great. Add a bag of Zapp’s chips to your order, and wash it down with an Abita beer. 5240 Annunciation St., tel. 504-899-9126.

Verti Marte. You’re seated in the perfect bar in the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny. The only problem: It doesn’t serve food, and you’re hungry. Do you get up to find a meal, or wait a while and savor your great New Orleans moment? Here’s where Verti Marte comes in. With a full menu ranging from breakfast to sandwiches to entrées, they’ll deliver to your perfect bar. You can also walk in and order directly from the counter. My favorite dish? The grilled shrimp po’boy with “wow” sauce (a spicy, creamy sauce). No, it’s not on the menu. Order it anyway. 1201 Royal St., tel. 504-525-4767.

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Getting a Glimpse of Guanaja

I just returned from two weeks on Guanaja, one of HondurasBay Islands. Aside from enjoying plenty of hammock time, great views of wildlife (spotted eagle rays, dolphins, ospreys, magnificent frigatebirds), island food, tropical sunny weather (and some spectacular evening thunderstorms), and visiting friends, I had some interesting “beyond tourist” moments that I want to share.

Anyone can have a “beyond tourist” moment on vacation, and it doesn’t even require getting out of the resort (although it’s nice to do so, in order to see how the locals live). Just spend time talking to the people who live in your destination and get to know them a little. Since I’ve been visiting Guanaja for more than 10 years and own property there, I’m regularly doing things like grocery shopping for myself, buying plants from the local nurseryman and chatting up locals in the bank line.


Here’s a glimpse into the island of Guanaja that the guidebooks don’t cover:

•    While I was shopping in Casa Sikaffy, one of the island’s largest grocery stores (that’s smaller than your average 7-Eleven), the lights suddenly went out. First thought: power outage. Nope. The owner’s sister walked up to me and explained, “There’s a funeral, and the body just passed in the street outside, so we turned the lights out for respect.” The street that she was referring to? A pedestrian walkway that’s only 7-feet wide.

•    Guanaja’s a relatively small island with limited infrastructure. Plastic recycling is something it hasn’t been able to tackle in a realistic way, until now. An ex-pat friend, Mike, showed me the island’s new “bottle crusher,” which takes piles of plastic bottles and presses them into large squares—ready to transport to the mainland for recycling. It’s a great way to get trash off the streets and beaches, and money into the pockets of islanders.

•    I had the chance to talk with a gentleman from one of Guanaja’s families that date from English settlement times, in the early 1800s. Mr. Borden is 80, and he told me about all the property throughout the island that he’s owned over the years. While it’s certainly an overstatement to say that he’s owned the entire island, his property holdings have covered a large amount of territory. It was a pleasure to hear about what Guanaja was like in the “old days” when there were few people, no electricity and the fishing “industry” consisted only of families fishing for their dinner.

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Top Strollers For Travel by Amy Hatch

Traveling with kids is challenging enough, so why make it harder by hitting the road with a crappy or too-heavy stroller?

Strollers are essential—especially when you are traveling by air. Getting from one gate to another with today’s super-tight connections means you need to be able to set that puppy up and run, people.

So what does a parent on the go look for in a stroller? The key attributes are: lightweight construction, durability and ease of use.

• When you travel, you often need to be able to fold and/or open your stroller with one hand, so test the floor model while holding your child. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to grab my stroller on the jetway and open it while holding my kid and a backpack loaded down with a DVD player, goodies and toys, all while trying to avoid getting run over by the entire section of business fliers.

• You also want a stroller that isn’t heavy—look for aluminum construction. That also helps you avoid rust. That gate attendant could care less if your stroller sits out in the rain. Also, choose a quick-drying fabric that resist stains.

• Got a toddler and an infant? A double stroller is a must if you have two young children. That doesn’t mean you have to get one of those huge side-by-side deals. Lots of brands today make models that allow you to have an infant in a traditional stroller seat, while your older child sits or stands on a jump seat or running board on the back.

• Last but not least, remember that quality lasts. If you travel frequently by air or rail, or even take long road trips, resist the urge to buy a cheap umbrella model. You’ll just end up replacing it 10 times, so spend the cash upfront and avoid the inconvenience.

So what do I recommend? I use a Joovy Caboose model, but here are some others worth considering:

Phil & Ted’s Sport Buggy and Doubles Kit

UppaBaby’s G-Lite Stroller

Maclaren Volvo

Combi Savvy Soho

Peg Perego Aria MT

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Preparing for DEMO

In just under two weeks, Team TravelMuse (Kevin, Eric and I) will head to San Diego to take part in our version of the Olympics—[DEMOfall ’08|], a launchpad for emerging technology. Although we haven’t been working on this for four years, it’s certainly taken a huge amount of planning and practice to get ready for this prestigious event.

At DEMO we will launch our latest product, the most complex release our product and engineering teams have tackled so far. With no challenge too small, they have worked diligently towards the deadline of Sept. 7. As we approach the final lock-down stage, Bugzilla has certainly been getting quite a workout! We’re really excited to show off our new product and let you try it out for yourself.

Kevin and Eric (TravelMuse Co-Founders) are our demonstrators at DEMO. We joke with our PR team about how many times we can get the word DEMO into a sentence. We’re going to give you a demo of our demo for DEMO. Anyway, Kevin and Eric are doing well with learning their scripts and can be seen listening to iPods (are they getting in the Michael Phelps zone?), clutching cue cards and muttering away to themselves. Coach Nathan has them on a regular practice schedule, and Eric, every now and again, gives me impromptu recitals.

I think we have compared this experience to a mix of memorizing your lines for a school play, to practicing the tricky sections of your piano recital, to being in a competitive race. Basically, you have to know your game plan and practice, practice, practice.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking care of the logistics with the DEMO team, writing product marketing copy and finalizing press kits and give-aways.

Later this week Kevin and Eric will have a live audience with our company—definitely the toughest crowd yet! Everyone has been working hard to produce their piece of the puzzle and is counting on them to show it off at its best—which I’m confident they will.

Team TravelMuse DEMO schedule:

Saturday, Sept. 6: Arrive in San Diego and rehearse in the evening.

Sunday, Sept. 7: Demonstrators’ meeting and set up booth #24.

Monday, Sept. 8: Watch other demos and give demos at booth #24.

Tuesday, Sept. 9: Team TravelMuse presents at 8:52 a.m. and gives demos at booth #24.

If you’re attending DEMO, we’ll see you there, otherwise you can follow us on Twitter @[TravelMuse|], and we’ll post more to the TravelMuse Company Blog soon.

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You may have mastered the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on liquids by now, but what about duty-free liquids, like perfumes and liquor? My husband just returned from a trip to Honduras. Because he’d had little time to shop during his stay, he bought a few bottles of rum in the airport before flying back to the United States. He thought his duty-free rum would be able to accompany him in the cabin all the way back to San Francisco.

Usually when we travel, any bottle of tequila, rum, or other spirit we acquire gets packed securely in our checked baggage for the trip home. We’ve even taken rolls of bubble wrap to Mexico to pack the bottles of tequila we knew we’d buy. And that’s why he didn’t know about the rules regarding duty-free liquids, gels and aerosols.

If you’re returning to the United States on a nonstop flight, your duty-free liquids (purchased in an international airport) will be permitted through the checkpoint only if they meet the U.S. requirements for tamper-proof bags. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), “duty-free delivered to the aircraft for passenger pick-up, bought on the plane or purchased after the security checkpoint are allowed.”

But, if you then connect to another flight, you have to place that liquid in your checked baggage. It will not be permitted through a U.S. security checkpoint. Considering that you’ll have to claim your checked bags when you pass through customs, there’s time to get that bottle of perfume or whiskey into your bag before you re-check it for the final flight home. But if you forget and get turned back from the next checkpoint because you have liquid in your carry-on, you’ll have no choice but to either leave that bottle behind or pay for a box to pack it in when you check it. And in these days of paying for practically anything that’s checked, the cost of the box plus the cost of a second (or first) checked bag might amount to more than that souvenir bottle is worth.

It’s good practice to brush up on your TSA rules periodically because they can change. I only just realized that metal scissors with sharp tips (under 4 inches), like those used for cutting fingernails, are now allowed in carry-on bags.

What happened to the rum? My husband packed them into his carry-on bag, checked it (paying a $25 fee for a second checked bag), and crossed his fingers that they wouldn’t be broken when he arrived in San Francisco. Luckily, all four bottles made it through intact.

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Trends in Online Travel. What’s After Metasearch?

Having voted in the recent Webby Awards, I was excited to view the Webby’s Winners Gallery last week. I checked out the nominated companies that some friends are involved with, including Trullia, and Zannel, but I was naturally drawn to the travel section.

Congratulations to Farecast who won the Webby for Travel and to Kayak who won the people’s choice for Travel. (When I worked at SideStep, we were excited to be named as an Official Honoree a few times, so it was great to see the people’s vote go to Kayak—who recently acquired SideStep.)

Farecast predicts fare trends for air and hotel and Kayak is the leading provider of metasearch (the ability to simultaneously search many travel sites and suppliers to find the best flight, hotel, car or package option based on factors such as price, availability and schedule).

It was only two years ago that Expedia scooped up the Webby award for the Travel category. This year, none of the major online travel companies were even nominated. In this fast-changing world, Expedia and the major online travel agencies (OTAs) have become household names, reached maturity and now newer sites are lauded for their innovation.

So if metasearch comes after the OTAs, what comes after that?

Here at TravelMuse, we believe it’s the upstream research and planning process personalized to you that offers the next great opportunity. I’m excited to watch how the landscape changes over the next 12 months and to see what comes next after metasearch.

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