5 Tips for Sharper Holiday Photographs
Holiday lights and decorations brighten up cities and towns, but capturing those images can be tricky. Or at least, it can be tricky to get your family to look good in them. Improve your shots in a snap with our five tips, gleaned from travel photographers and Budget Travel readers.
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Will Innovations in Hotel Booking Lead to Higher Prices?
A lot of thought goes into hotel booking—you have travelers like us out there looking for the best deals, you have hoteliers who are trying to convince us they offer the best value, and you have the middlemen who are trying to make the process easier (and make a few bucks while they're at it). I'm all for easier—and that's why my ears perk up every time an innovation in hotel booking comes along. One of the newest innovations, the ability to specify the exact room you will book, has me especially intrigued for two reasons—one, because I think it has the potential to improve the lives of travelers, and two, because I'm mindful of how it might affect hotel rates in the future. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('0f3f8f48-7f38-4444-bbfc-21ee97b5b2f6');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) We saw this coming back in March, shortly after Room77.com arrived on the scene. The website operates on the premise that not all rooms are created equal, so you might as well choose the best one, and they try to help you do this by sharing room reviews, views, and floor-plans. They weren't the only ones experimenting with this idea—some hotels such as Hilton and Homewood Suites, were starting to let guests choose their own rooms too. (Though, in the case of Hilton, you have to be an HHonors rewards member to take advantage of the offering.) As of midnight this past Wednesday, Room 77 is now giving people the opportunity to not only search specific hotel room reviews, but to specify the exact type of room they would like—and book it through their website. Here's how it works: you search for hotels in a given city. You can narrow your results based on price, destination and desired amenities (jetted tubs, for example). When you go to book, all of the room details you've indicated are important to you are communicated to the hotel via a proprietary algorithm called RoomMatch. At least in theory, this means you'll get the perfect room for you. This sounds pretty nifty, but what does it mean in the long run? First of all, I'm curious—do you care enough about your hotel room to be excited about an offering like this? Second, if people get wise to the fact that one standard room is decidedly more desirable (bigger, better view) than another, might hotels eventually catch onto that as well and start charging more for those rooms, therefore making it even more difficult for cost-conscious travelers to snag a prime room at a discount? I guess only time will tell. What do you think? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The Dirty Truth About Hotel Ratings 10 Record-Breaking Bridges 10 Most Interesting Beaches
Are You Traveling Responsibly?
We've all heard the words tossed around. Responsible tourism. Sustainable tourism. Green travel. But what do they mean? Several years ago, World Travel Market, one of the world's largest travel events currently taking place in London, partnered with the United Nations World Tourism Organization to heighten awareness of responsible travel with the launch of a World Responsible Tourism Day. This year, World Responsible Tourism Day is Nov. 9. So, what is responsible tourism? It’s a loaded question and one that has engendered much thought and speculation from those in the travel industry and who bring hoards of tourists to and through sites around the globe. In 2002, nearly 300 tourism representatives from some 20 countries gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to try to define responsible tourism. According to them, responsible tourism is tourism that minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts on local communities; generates economic benefits for those communities and involves them in decisions that affect their lives; takes into account the conservation of natural and cultural heritage; provides more meaningful experiences for tourists through improved connections with local people that emphasize local cultural, social and environmental issues; and provides access for disabled travelers; among other things. "Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and a strong contributor to sustainable development and poverty alleviation," the Global Sustainable Tourism Council notes on its website. The GSTC is focused on ensuring that the 1.6 billion tourists who will be traveling the world by the year 2020 (according to a UNWTO forecast) potentially do more good than harm by responsibly and sustainably contributing to local economies. "It's a matter of what the relationship is when you make that visit," Harold Goodwin, professor at the International Centre for Responsible Tourism in Leeds, U.K., has said about the impact of privileged travelers heading into less privileged communities. "If it's purely voyeuristic, if all you're doing is going to look at the poor and take photographs, that seems to me to be exploitative and unacceptable." But, said Goodwin, “Not to be exploited, not to be economically engaged, not to have the opportunity to earn from these things is far worse." What about you? What are your thoughts about responsible tourism? Are you aware of your footprint and the impact you have as a traveler? More from Budget Travel: A voluntourist speaks out: a first-hand account of helping in the wake of disaster Voluntourism: Nearly 4 million Americans a year participate Ask Trip Coach: Volunteer vacations
Thanksgiving Travel Myths Debunked
Local TV news shows trot out a few staple stories every November, as reliably as families trot out Butterballs for basting. Air travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one topic that reliably brings tall tales. Here are some popular myths, debunked. Myth No.1 The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for flying. Not true! Don't listen to your local TV newscaster. The Wednesday before Turkey Day won't even be in the top 25 busiest days of the year for air travel this year, according to all forecasts. That Wednesday in previous years hasn't been "the busiest day for air travel" in many years. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is usually busier. What's more, taking a flight on virtually any Thursday or Friday during the summer is usually worse than any days during this period. This Thanksgiving is expected to pale in comparison to previous ones—at least when it comes to air travel. Fewer people will fly this year than last year and the year before, and numbers are down 12 percent from boom-boom year 2006. A forecast for this year's Thanksgiving holiday period by AAA predicts about 23 million vacationers will take to the skies between Friday, Nov. 18, and Tuesday, Nov. 29. All that said, severe weather can, of course, wreak havoc on the aviation system at any time. So, keep an eye on the weather forecast as you travel. Also: Florida's main airport have the unique problem on the weekend before Thanksgiving, when cruise passengers mix with travelers starting their Thanksgiving holidays early. Myth No.2 It's too late now to redeem frequent flier miles for travel on many routes. Not necessarily so! Just ask Jared Blank, the frequent flier analyst who blogs at Online Travel Review. Blank has access to the computer databases that give peeks into the availability of reward travel. He says flights from the East Coast to Florida and the Caribbean still have business-class seat upgrades available. And "flights to Europe, especially on European carriers, look quite open over the Thanksgiving break," he says. Myth No.3 There are more flight delays at Thanksgiving than at most other times of year. Wrong again! Reporters at NPR and USA Today debunked this chestnut in recent years. They asked the Department of Transportation to crunch the numbers on this, and, historically, "on-time performance for flights since 2001 during a 12-day window with Thanksgiving in the middle" were the same as the average for the rest of the year. No blips. For the record, LAX International in Los Angeles will be the nation’s busiest airport this Thanksgiving, followed by Chicago O’Hare, Orlando International and San Francisco International, according to the annual Orbitz Insider Index. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Holiday Travel: To Go Home Or Go Away 14 Ways to Survive a Holiday Flight Trip Coach: Share Your Upgrade Strategies
London Tests Free Public Wi-Fi
In London, finding free Wi-Fi has been about as difficult as finding Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at the train station that goes to Hogwarts. But that may soon change. Until the end of 2011, London will let the public enjoy free Wi-Fi in 26 hotspots downtown, such as Oxford Street, reports BBC News. The new trial service, sponsored by Nokia, will limit downloads to one megabit per user. That's enough space to look up directions or restaurant reviews, but not enough to watch a video. With luck, that limit will ensure that many people can use the service at the same time in crowded areas. Unlike some other cities in the U.S. and the world, London has only offered spotty complimentary Wi-Fi over the years in a way easily accessible to international visitors. (Many services required users to have accounts with local phone companies or banks.) But clever travelers know where to find free Web surfing: First, try McDonald's, Burger King, and Pret a Manger restaurants in the city. Or, try one of the 400-odd Starbucks coffee shops around town; many provide free Wi-Fi to customers, and as of this fall, you no longer have to own the U.K. version of the Starbucks Card to enjoy this perk. Caffe Nero, a local competitor chain of coffee shops, also introduced free Wi-Fi for customers this fall, though you have to fill out an online registration form with your e-mail address to use it. You'll also find free Wi-Fi at St. Pancras Station, which is where you can catch the Eurostar train to Paris, and at the Tate Modern museum by the Thames River. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL How to Book Your Own Grand European Tour London: Top Fish and Chip Shops Real Deals: London, Air/4 Nights, From $884: Book by Nov. 15, 2011